As Pope Francis concludes his five-day visit to Korea on Monday, his visit is expected to have a lasting impact on the country.
The Korean Catholic Church anticipates the second papal visit in 25 years will bring newcomers to its fold as John Paul II’s visit did in 1989.
Catholics account for 10.4 percent of the Korean population as the third-largest faith after Protestantism and Buddhism. Its membership grew rapidly from 2.9 million in 1995 to 5.4 million in 2013.
“I personally hope that more Koreans will turn to Catholicism (inspired by the pope),” said Father Matthias Hur Young-yup, a spokesperson for the Preparatory Committee for the Visitation of the Holy Father.
The pope’s visit has won the hearts of nonbelievers. Those inspired by the pope have made inquiries about how to join the Catholic Church.
“I don’t have a religion, but I want to attend the Catholic Church after what I saw the pope’s acts. What should I do? Where should I go? Could someone let me know?” read an Aug. 15 post of an online community on the major Internet portal Naver.
The pope’s acts during his stay have left profound impressions on many people. The pope offered consolation to the families of Sewol ferry victims. He placed his hand on the disabled and kissed them as a gesture of blessing during his visit to Kkottongnae, a welfare center for the disabled in Eumseong. He accepted the last-minute request by a father of a boy killed in the ferry sinking to baptise him on Sunday morning. The pontiff often got out of the open-air vehicle during parades to bless children and console Sewol ferry victims.
“The pope’s display of love and compassion for the underprivileged, the poor and children has moved many people’s hearts,” said Lee Young-hwa, a Catholic and culture and tourism tour guide of Solmoe Holy Ground, the venue of the Asia Youth Day where the pope met young Catholics on Aug. 15.
“The impact of Pope Francis’ visit is evident already. We had about 100 visitors a day at Solmoe Holy Ground before the pope’s visit. Now the number has risen to 500 a day,” said Lee in a phone interview with The Korea Herald.
“We had many non-Catholics including Protestants and Buddhists who came to see the pope during his visit to Solmoe Holy Ground. His acts of blessing children and praying for the disabled received much praise from non-Catholics.”
According to a recent survey by Gallup Korea on the pope’s image, 62 percent of the respondents said they had “good feelings” toward Pope Francis. The major reasons behind the good feeling were the fact that he is one of the most respected figures and clergies in the world (22 percent), followed by his love for the poor and disadvantaged (17 percent), his visit to Korea (15 percent) and demonstration of humility (14 percent). The survey asked 1,004 adults aged 19 and older across the country from Aug. 5-7.
By Lee Woo-young (firstname.lastname@example.org