Oh Myung-sook, a 52-year-old housewife from Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, is planning a day trip to Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, on Saturday, where Pope Francis is scheduled to hold a special Mass to beautify 124 Korean martyrs.
“It’s not the Mass I want to attend,” said Oh, who introduced herself as a faithful Protestant. “It is the pope I hope to see there. I hope to find peace of mind through him who has inspired the world with his humble, down-to-earth leadership and, of course, unconditional love of the people.”
Oh is one of hundreds of thousands of Koreans hoping to see Pope Francis even at a far distance. The police estimate that up to 1 million people, regardless of their religion, will gather in Gwanghwamun, one of the busiest commercial areas in Korea. The pope’s motorcade is expected to pass down Gwanghwamun boulevard to provide a full view of him.
|Pope Francis has his picture taken with youths from the Italian Diocese of Piacenza and Bobbio, who came to Rome for a pilgrimage, inside St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on Aug. 24. (AP-Yonhap)|
Pope Francis arrives Thursday to attend an international gathering of Asian Catholic youths and to recognize the sacrifice of early Korean Catholics in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The pontiff’s schedule is mostly religious. But Koreans pin high hopes on his visit, believing that the spiritual leader could console many who are suffering from the country’s dark past, social disputes and the recent man-made tragedy ― the Sewol disaster.
“To me, the papal visit means more than just a religious event,” said Kim Min-sun, a 33-year-old office worker in Seoul. “We (Koreans) have gone through a lot these days with our minds and souls left uncured. I hope he can give us the courage to move on, something that none of our leaders have done so far.”
During the five-day visit, the pope is scheduled to meet with former “comfort women” who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, and console bereaved families and survivors of the ferry disaster that killed over 300 in April. The Catholic leader also plans to meet with people who are suffering because of various social disputes including dismissed workers from Ssangyong Motors Co. and residents who have been protesting against a state-run power supplier’s plan to build extra-high voltage transmission towers in the southeastern provincial city of Miryang.
Catholic priests organizing the papal visit said they are also hoping he will bring a message of consolation and hope to Korean society.
“Pope Francis makes it a priority to visit suffering people,” Bishop Peter Kang U-il said in a statement.
“I believe that he will come to us who are experiencing heartache over various issues and bring a message of consolation and hope.”
Kang said that Korean society is “filled with anguish,” citing diplomatic conflicts with neighboring countries, the widening economic gap between the haves and the have-nots, and the corruptive state management revealed by the ferry disaster. Koreans continue to suffer after a series of deadly abuses were revealed in the military, he said.
Kang believes that the pope’s choice of Korea as his first missionary destination in Asia, is to pray for peace on the Korean Peninsula, which has been divided since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The pope’s five-day trip to Korea is his first trip to Asia since he took over the papacy from his predecessor, Benedict XVI, last year.
“I think the pontiff’s choice of the Korean Peninsula as first Asian destination was out of his aspiration to pray for peace on the peninsula and elsewhere in Asia,” said Kang, head of the organizing committee for the papal visit.
“During the time he stays with us, I hope that Koreans could unite and embrace one another, to promote reconciliation and peace on this land,” he said.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)