Pope Francis did not speak much as tearful family members of victims of the ferry Sewol shared their stories with him on Friday, but vowed to never forget the tragedy that left over 300 -- mostly high school students -- dead or missing.
“We (the families) asked the pope to urge the Korean government and the parliament to place efforts on passing a special bill on Sewol, and to embrace the father of a Sewol victim -- who is currently on a hunger strike demanding the bill to pass -- during (Saturday’s) Mass at Gwanghwamun,” said Kim Byung-kwon, a representative of the victims’ families.
The pope “silently nodded,” he added.
Their meeting took place at Daejeon World Cup Stadium shortly before the pope celebrated his first public Mass. He invited eight family members of ferry victims and two survivors for a private audience. A total of 36 survivors and relatives were invited to the Mass.
|Pope Francis offers words of comfort to the family members of Sewol ferry disaster victims at Daejeon World Cup Stadium, Daejeon, Friday. (Yonhap)|
Among the family members present at the meeting was Kim Hag-il, the father of high school sophomore Woon-gi who died in the April 16 disaster. Kim gave the pope a 5-kilogram cross that he had carried on a month-long, 900 kilometer walk from Ansan, where his son had attended school, to Daejeon.
“The victimized souls of the 300 lie within the cross. Please celebrate the Mass with their souls,” said Kim, to which Pope Francis answered, “Yes, I will.” He added that he would take the cross back to Rome.
The families gave him a yellow ribbon and a bracelet in memoriam of the Sewol victims. The pope wore the ribbon on his left chest throughout the Mass. They also gave the pope a letter in which they emphasized the importance of a special bill that aims to unearth the truth about the cause of the ferry disaster.
“The special bill is not about asking for money or benefits. It’s about discovering the reason behind the death of our loved ones. We hope that with a thorough investigation of the corruption that led to the disaster, no one will have to suffer the pain that we went through,” the bereaved family said in the letter.
On Thursday, the Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pontiff would not intervene in such issues, and that he would “merely offer comfort” to the families.
On his first day here, the pope was met by four family members of the Sewol victims, who came to meet him at the airport. He said to them: “I have (the accident) deep in my mind.”
More than 600 family members of the victims are also expected to attend the beatification ceremony of 124 Korean martyrs on Saturday.
By Yoon Min-sik (email@example.com