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Published : 2014-08-17 21:32
Updated : 2014-08-17 21:32

In sermons and speeches, Pope Francis repeatedly denounced the world’s growing obsession with material wealth, in a stark message to Koreans and other Asians who have grown “outwardly affluent” but inwardly more insecure and lost.

In what many Koreans saw as surprisingly accurate references to their problems, the pontiff warned against “a cancer” of despair and “the culture of death” growing in many affluent societies in his first sermon to his flock in Korea on Friday.

Beatifying the 124 Korean martyrs the next day, the pope asked, “For what, if anything, would we be willing to die for?”

To ascetics, he sounded more stern, saying, “The hypocrisy of those consecrated men and women who profess vows of poverty, yet live like the rich, wounds the souls of the faithful and harms the Church.”

A denunciation of material wealth and a need for the Catholic Church to focus on the poor has been front and center of the Argentine-born cleric’s papacy.

But, delivered on his first papal visit to Asia, where financial status is seen as a key barometer of one’s success, the message seems to resonate with more people.

The messages hit home with Koreans, in particular, as a growing number of them question the social consequences of their breakneck transformation from rags to riches.

Korea, which was one of the poorest countries in the world after the Korean War, is now the world’s 14th-largest economy, but it grapples with a high suicide rate, a low birthrate, a widening income gap and low public trust in authority.

“I am not Catholic. But what the pope has said so far really resonates with me,” Park Sung-rae, an office workers, wrote on his Facebook, with a link to a news report on the pope’s sermon during a Mass at Daejeon World Cup Stadium.

There, the pontiff urged listeners to combat “the spirit of unbridled competition which generates selfishness and strife” and to “reject inhuman economic models which create new forms of poverty.”

He had similar messages for the hundreds of thousands of Koreans gathered for a Mass to beatify 124 Korean martyrs at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul on Saturday.

He preached that the martyrs of the 18th and 19th countries teach today’s Catholics to live a life for others, not just for themselves.

“Their example has much to say to us who live in societies where, alongside immense wealth, dire poverty is silently growing; where the cry of the poor is seldom heeded; and where Christ continues to call out to us, asking us to love and serve him by tending to our brothers and sisters in need.”

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)

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