Pope says forgiveness key to reconciling divided Korea
Catholic News Service photo
Youth delegates from Hong Kong hold banners bearing the Asian Youth Day theme in Dangjin, South Korea, Aug. 15. The youth said they felt inspired after Pope Francis went off script to answer questions from pre-selected participants.
Asian youths inspired after pope spends extra time with them
DANGJIN, South Korea — About 6,000 young people from 30 Asian countries had Pope Francis all to themselves for several hours Aug. 15.
The youths said they felt inspired after Pope Francis went off script to answer questions from pre-selected participants, watched a re-enactment of a modern-day prodigal son and also sat down to lunch with a small group at the Asian Youth Day conference in the Daejeon Diocese.
The tent at the Solmoe Holy Ground crackled with music, cheering and the excitement of teens and young adults. Pope Francis said he would stay beyond the allotted time so he could answer young people's questions.
To wild cheers, the pope asked the young people whether they were ready to be God's witnesses.
"Are you ready to say yes? Are you ready?" he asked. The crowd screamed, "Yes!"
Alexander John of Pakistan told reporters his heart started beating "double time" when he learned he was selected for the sit-down lunch with the pope. The youth minister from the Karachi Archdiocese called the meeting a "dream come true."
"He really made my day, he really made my life," said John, 27.
Duc Dinh Nguyen, 28, told Catholic News Service that after he arrived in Seoul from Vietnam three years ago to get a degree in biology, he got swept up with how convenient life could be. "It made me (forget) God. I missed him."
"After this event, my faith will be stronger," he said.
After the Q-and-A session, a group of South Korean delegates danced to a pop song composed for the Asian Youth Day conference.
Lauren Kim said she "felt very blessed" when Pope Francis asked for a moment of prayer for the unification of North and South Korea.
"What impressed me the most was he said we have the same language," Kim, a 19-year-old international relations major, told Catholic News Service. "And language has the power (to change the problems) we have in our divided nation. Especially I'm interested in solving those problems. I'm hoping I can use his knowledge and try to expand knowledge from what he told us."
The Aug. 13-17 Asian Youth Day brought together youth leaders from about 30 countries to focus on formation and spiritual life. Solmoe Holy Ground is the birthplace of St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first Korean priest, who was executed for his faith during a time of persecution of 10,000 Catholics.
St. John Paul II canonized St. Andrew Kim and 102 other martyrs in 1984. The day after meeting the young people, Pope Francis was to beatify 124 martyrs at a Mass in Seoul.
Catholic News Service
SEOUL, South Korea — Addressing young people from Korea and other Asian countries on their concerns about the future, Pope Francis said the best hope for reunification of the divided Korean peninsula lay in brotherly love and a spirit of forgiveness.
"You are brothers who speak the same language," the pope said Aug. 15. "When you speak the same language in a family, there is also a human hope."
The pope's remarks came in response to a question from a young Korean woman, Marina Park, attending an Asian Youth Day gathering in Solmoe, about 60 miles south of Seoul. Park asked the pope how young South Korean Catholics should view communist North Korea after six decades of "reciprocal hatred" between the two countries.
"Are there two Koreas?" Pope Francis asked in response. "No, there is one, but it is divided, the family is divided."
To promote reunification, the pope said he had one piece of advice to offer and one reason for hope.
"My advice is to pray, pray for our brothers in the North," he said, "that there might not be victors and defeated, only one family."
He then led the audience of some 6,000 people in silent prayer for Korean reunification.
To illustrate his reason for hope, Pope Francis cited the Old Testament story of Joseph, who forgave and fed his brothers even though they had sold him into slavery.
"When Joseph's brothers went into Egypt to buy food because they were hungry, they found a brother," he said. "Joseph noticed that they spoke the same language."
The pope also cited the Gospel parable of the prodigal son, a familiar reference in his preaching. A group of young performers had enacted the parable onstage a few minutes earlier.
The prodigal son's father embraced his repentant son immediately, "he didn't let him speak, he didn't even let him ask for pardon," the pope said. "He celebrated."
"We can do very ugly things, but please don't despair," he said. "There is always the Father who waits for us."
Pope Francis' answer was not part of the original program for the afternoon event, which called for him to read a prepared text in English, only the third time as pope that he has used the language before a live audience.
But with his usual tendency to improvise, the pope departed from his text and shifted into Italian to reply to the young people.
He also answered the question of a young Cambodian woman, Leap Lakaraksmey, who said she was trying to choose between entering religious life and continuing her university studies in order to help the poor in her native village.
"When the Lord calls, he always calls us to do good for others," the pope said. "But you shouldn't choose. The Lord chooses. You have to ask: 'Lord, what should I do?'"
The pope also assured the young woman, who lamented the lack of canonized saints from her country, that he would ask the Congregation for Saints' Causes to look into the possibility of recognizing the martyrdom of Catholics killed in Cambodia in the 1970s by the communist regime under Pol Pot.
Pope Francis notably did not answer the other person who had been allowed to question him publicly at the event: a young man from Hong Kong, Giovanni Pang, who asked how to help Catholics in China, where he said "control and oppression" were increasing as the church on the mainland grew.
China requires Catholics to register with a government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, which has ordained bishops without approval of the pope, and Chinese authorities have frequently arrested members of the so-called underground or clandestine Catholic communities there. According to unconfirmed reports in Korean media, some Chinese Catholics planning to attend events with Pope Francis had been prevented from traveling to South Korea.
After the event, Pang told reporters that the pope had assured him he would be praying for China.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Pope Francis had chosen to avoid "political" topics such as China at an event whose character was supposed to be "pastoral."
The pope appeared at the Solmoe event following a lunch with Asian Youth Day participants from various countries and a visit to the reconstructed birthplace of St. Andrew Kim, the first native-born Korean priest, who was martyred in 1846 at the age of 25.
On his way into the tent set up for his meeting with young people, the pope was greeted with cheers and outstretched hands, many holding tablets and cell phone cameras. Before stepping up to the stage, he stopped and allowed one member of the audience to attach a yellow-ribbon pin to his cassock.
The pin has been adopted by family members of those killed in the April sinking of the Sewol ferry, some of whom the pope met earlier in the day, who are pressing the South Korean government to appoint an independent investigation of the disaster.