[Papal Visit] Downtown Seoul becomes outdoor cathedral
By Jeong Hunny
Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to witness Pope Francis beatify 124 martyrs in downtown Seoul on Saturday under chants of “amen” and “viva il papa.”
Up to 1 million people, according to the police, gathered in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square -- usually a district bustling with office workers.
The square resembled a large outdoor cathedral on Saturday with attendees praying in silence and singing Bible hymns during the beatification ceremony.
The crowd enthusiastically waved to the pontiff, as he paraded down in an open-sided car the streets of Gwanghwamun for about 30 minutes. The Catholic Church’s top cleric smiled in return, stopping several times to kiss and bless babies.
He got off the vehicle when he saw family members of victims of April’s ferry sinking who have been camping out in the area for weeks for a full investigation into the tragedy that claimed around 300 lives. He personally consoled them.
Law enforcement officials and emergency medical technicians stood watching, to ensure security and safety.
“Sir, you need to get off that tree,” a police officer told one onlooker climbing up to get a better glimpse of the pope.
Temperatures reached 27 degrees Celsius. A few were reported to have suffered minor heat injuries, with most of the onlookers sitting directly under the morning sun. Some were sent to provisional tents for treatment. Patients could be seen lying on makeshift bunks in some of the air-conditioned emergency tents.
“Actually there were quite a lot (of patients),” one paramedic on the scene said. “Most of them complained of dizziness and fatigue, probably because of the heat.”
Pope Francis beatified 124 martyrs executed in the 18th and 19th centuries by government officials of the Joseon period (1392-1910). The Joseon dynasty was Korea’s ruling royal family until 1910 when Japan annexed Korea. Officials of the period did not tolerate Catholicism, fearing the religion could invite unwanted western political influence to Korea.