Pope Francis has said his first Asian mass before a 50,000-strong crowd in the South Korean city of Daejeon, which is playing host to Asian Youth Day — the largest gathering of young Catholics on the continent. The Associated Press (AP) reported that crowds crying “Viva il Papa” greeted him as his open-sided vehicle entered the soccer stadium where the service was held Friday morning. K-pop singers and rappers warmed up the crowd before the pontiff’s arrival.
The pope also met a group of survivors and family members of victims of April’s Sewol ferry disaster, in which almost 300 people, mostly high-school students, were drowned. He will be given a large cross carried by relatives who undertook a 21-day pilgrimage to Jindo Island, near the location where the Sewol capsized, AP said. Pope Francis expressed this hope that the tragedy would bring “all Koreans together in grief and confirm their commitment to work together in solidarity for the common good.”
Later in the day, the pontiff tweeted in both English and Korean, encouraging young people “to see the things in life that really matter.” He also paid a visit to a shrine dedicated to the first Korean to be ordained a Catholic priest, St. Andrew Kim Taegon, who is the patron saint of South Korea and was executed in 1846, at the age of 25, after running foul of the ruling Joseon dynasty.
On Saturday, the pope will hold a ceremony to beatify 124 Korean Catholics martyred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
South Korea is a rare outpost of Catholicism in Asia. This is the first papal visit to the region since 1989 and reflects what many believe to be the Vatican’s hopes to grow the church in the region.