Pope Francis called for peace on the divided Korean Peninsula as he began his five-day apostolic voyage to South Korea on Thursday.
In his first public address since his arrival in the morning, the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide stressed that only dialogue, not displays of force, will lead to lasting peace.
“I can only express my appreciation for the efforts being made in favor of reconciliation and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and to encourage those efforts, for they are the only sure path to lasting peace,” the 77-year-old pontiff said at the South Korean presidential office in Seoul.
He delivered the speech in English, shortly after summit talks with President Park Geun-hye.
In a blunt reminder of an unfinished war on the peninsula, North Korea test-fired five short-range projectiles into the sea -- three less than an hour before the pope’s arrival and two more a short time after.
South Korea is technically still at war with the reclusive communist state, which is persistently trying to develop nuclear weapons. "Korea’s quest for peace is a cause close to our hearts, for it affects the stability of the entire area and indeed of our whole war-weary world,” the pope said, adding that “peace is not simply the absence of war, but ‘the work of justice.’”
In a separate speech, Park called on the North to drop its nuclear ambitions in order to move toward peace and prosperity.
“I believe that achieving a unification of the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons is an aspiration of peace-loving people in the world, including His Holiness, Pope Francis,” Park said.
Peace and Asian youths are high on the agenda for the pope who has travelled to this part of the world for the first time since taking over the papacy in March last year.
He is also expected to give a strong message of encouragement to a small but strong local church which exemplifies much of what he hopes for the Catholic Church around the world.
Catholicism has grown remarkably in this country from nonexistence 230 years ago to the third-largest faith after Protestantism and Buddhism. Now, about 5.4 million Koreans are Catholic, roughly 11 percent of the population.
The pontiff arrived at Seoul Air Base in Seoul’s southeastern suburbs at around 10:15 a.m., after an 11 ½ hour flight from Rome.
He was greeted by President Park, representatives from the Roman Catholic Church in Korea and a small crowd of lay people from various walks of life.
“I hope that our people of Korea will get a warm consolation from your visit and that it will lead to a new era of peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula,” the president said to the pope, clasping his hands.
“I came here with that thought deep in my mind,” the pope responded.
He shook hands with each member of a small welcoming crowd, sometimes taking a moment to offer a few words.
When he was introduced to four family members of those killed in the April Sewol ferry disaster, he stopped and said: “I have (it) deep in my mind.”
Pope Francis wrapped up his first day in Korea with a meeting with Korean bishops in the early evening. He then headed for the Apostolic Nunciature in Seoul, where he will stay for his entire Korea trip.
In a press briefing after the day’s schedule, Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi reassured that the pope was in good condition and was happy about the way he has been received here.
“He’s not tired,” he said.
The Holy Father’s itinerary here is predominantly spiritual, focusing on young Asian Catholics and Korean martyrs, 124 of whom he will beatify at a large-scale outdoor Mass on Saturday.
Between visits to sacred sites and liturgical events, however, he is scheduled to meet the beleaguered families and survivors of the April ferry disaster, disabled people living at a Catholic-run welfare facility, and former sex slaves for the Japanese army during the World War II, among others.
On Friday, he is to travel to the southern city of Daejeon to celebrate a Mass and meet participants of the 6th Asian Youth Day, a regional gathering of young Catholic believers.
Pope Francis is the second pope to visit Korea. The first was Pope John Paul II who came here twice in 1984 and 1989.
By Lee Sun-young
|Pope Francis speaks after meeting with President Park at Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday. (Yonhap)|
|The pope and President Park walk toward the venue for the official welcoming ceremony. (Yonhap)|