A highlight of the pope’s five-day apostolic visit here, the ceremony drew some 800,000 Koreans to the streets of Gwanghwamun, the traditional center of Seoul and a historic place where large numbers of early believers were martyred in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“They were willing to make great sacrifices and let themselves be stripped of whatever kept them from Christ -- possessions and land, prestige and honor -- for they knew that Christ alone was their true treasure,” the pontiff told the crowd in his sermon.
“They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for.”
Among the 124 beatified is Paul Yun Ji-chung, Korea’s first martyrs who was beheaded in 1791 for renouncing Confucian ancestral rites for his mother.
“The victory of the martyrs, their witness to the power of God’s love, continues to bear fruit today in Korea, in the church which received growth from their sacrifice. Our celebration of Blessed Paul and Companions provides us with the opportunity to return to the first moments, the infancy as it were, of the Church in Korea,” he said.
For many Korean Catholics, the ceremony was a strong message of encouragement from the Holy Father to their church, which has grown from nonexistence 230 years ago to the country’s third-largest faith now.
Catholics account for roughly 11 percent of the population, after Protestants and Buddhists.
The pontiff started his third day in Korea with a visit to Seosomun Martyrs’ Shrine, where Yun and 26 others among the 124 blessed at the Mass were executed. He then headed for Gwanghwamun.
Before the Mass’ start at around 10 a.m., the pope greeted attendees with a 30-minute-long motorcade from City Hall to Gwanghwamun Plaza, where the altar was erected. The 1.4-kilometer street was filled with huge crowds trying to get a glimpse of the pontiff.
As the pope declared the 124 martyrs “blessed,” a huge picture of Paul Yun Ji-chung and his companion martyrs was revealed.
The image depicts the martyrs holding various things in their hands -- palms to symbolize their victory, crosses, or lilies as symbols of martyrdom and virginity.
By Lee Woo-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)