TIME South Korea

Pope Leaves South Korea After Urging Peace

Pope Francis
Pope Francis meets with religious leaders prior to the start of a Mass he celebrated in Seoul's Cathedral, South Korea, on Aug. 18, 2014 Gregorio Borgia—AP

Francis laid out these themes from the start of his visit, which was clouded by the firing of five rockets from Pyongyang into the sea

(SEOUL, South Korea) — Pope Francis wrapped up his first trip to Asia on Monday by challenging Koreans —from the North and the South — to reject the “mindset of suspicion and confrontation” that clouds their relations and find new ways to forge peace on the war-divided peninsula.

Before boarding a plane back to Rome, the pope held a Mass of reconciliation at Seoul’s main cathedral, attended by South Korean President Park Geun-hye as well as some North Korean defectors. It was the final event of a five-day trip that confirmed the importance of Asia for this papacy and for the Catholic Church as a whole, given the church is young and growing here whereas it is withering in traditionally Christian lands in Europe.

Francis’ plea for peace came as the United States and South Korea started a joint military drill that North Korea warned would result in a “merciless pre-emptive strike” against the allies.

In a poignant moment at the start of the Mass on Monday, Francis bent down and greeted seven women, many sitting in wheelchairs, who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. One gave him a pin of a butterfly — a symbol of these “comfort women’s” plight — which he immediately pinned to his vestments and wore throughout the Mass.

Francis said in his homily that reconciliation can be brought about only by forgiveness, even if it seems “impossible, impractical and even at times repugnant.”

“Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people,” he said.

During his trip the pope reached out to China, North Korea and a host of other countries that have no relations with the Holy See.

The pope will visit the Philippines in January, along with Sri Lanka. In Seoul on Monday, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, said Francis is offering “a friendly hand to the other countries, and assuring the countries we are not here for any worldly ambition, we are not here as conquerors, we are here as brothers and sisters.”

Francis laid out these themes from the start of his visit, which was clouded by the firing of five rockets from Pyongyang into the sea. North Korea later said the test firings had nothing to do with Francis’ arrival but rather commemorated the 69th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japanese occupation.

The U.S.-South Korean military exercises starting Monday and involving tens of thousands of troops are described by the allies as routine and defensive, but Pyongyang sees them as invasion preparation. A spokesman for the North Korean army’s general staff said in a statement Sunday carried by state media that a “most powerful and advanced merciless pre-emptive strike will start any time chosen by us.”

Such rhetoric is typical from the North and direct strikes by Pyongyang are rare, although attacks blamed on the North in 2010 killed 50 South Koreans.

Before the Mass, Seoul Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung dedicated a “crown of thorns” to the pope made from barbed wire taken from the heavily fortified demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. “Ut unum sint” reads the inscription “That they may be one” — a phrase usually invoked when praying for unity among Catholics, Orthodox and other Christians but given an entirely new meaning in the Korean context.

In his homily, Francis said the Korean people knew well the pain of division and conflict and urged them to reflect on how they individually and as a people could work to reconcile.

He challenged them to “firmly reject a mindset shaped by suspicion, confrontation and competition, and instead to shape a culture formed by the teaching of the Gospel and the noblest traditional values of the Korean people.”

When he was a young Jesuit, the Argentine-born Francis had wanted to be a missionary in Asia but was kept home because of poor health. He used his trip to South Korea to rally young Asians in particular to take up the missionary call to spread the faith.

He also used the trip to console Koreans: He met on several occasions with relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry sinking, in which 300 people were killed in April. Throughout his trip, he wore a yellow pin on his cassock that was given to him by the families.

On Monday, he received the butterfly pin from Kim Bok-dong, one of the “comfort women” who attended his Mass. These elderly South Koreans, many of whom regularly appear at rallies and other high-profile events, are looking for greater global attention as they push Japan for a new apology and compensation.

In an interview with The Associated Press before the Mass, another one of the women, Lee Yong-soo, who often speaks to the media, said she hoped the meeting would provide some solace for the pain she and others still feel more than seven decades after they were violated.

TIME South Korea

Pope Urges “Fraternal” Dialogue With China, Others

SKOREA-VATICAN-POPE-RELIGION
Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he arrives to take part in a mass concluding the 6th Asian Youth Day in Haemi, some 150 kilometres south of Seoul, on Aug. 17, 2014. Kim Hong-Jil—AFP/Getty Images

"I'm not talking here only about a political dialogue, but about a fraternal dialogue"

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Pope Francis made a new gesture of outreach to China and North Korea on Sunday, saying he “earnestly” hopes to improve relations and insisting that the Catholic Church isn’t coming in as a “conquerer” trying to take away the identity of others.

Francis outlined his priorities for the Catholic Church in Asia during a meeting of the region’s bishops Sunday, urging them to listen to people of different cultures but still remain true to their own Catholic identity.

“In this spirit of openness to others, I earnestly hope that those countries of your continent with whom the Holy See does not yet enjoy a full relationship may not hesitate to further a dialogue for the benefit of all,” he said.

Then deviating from his text, he added: “I’m not talking here only about a political dialogue, but about a fraternal dialogue,” he said. “These Christians aren’t coming as conquerors, they aren’t trying to take away our identity.” He said the important thing was to “walk together.”

The comments appeared to be a clear reference to China, which severed diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1951. But they could also apply to North Korea, where the church is under tight government control and is not recognized by the Vatican. There are similarly no diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and the Vatican.

Francis has already broken ground with Beijing on his first Asian trip by sending greetings to President Xi Jinping when he flew through Chinese airspace. He also sent Xi a letter after the two of them were elected within hours of one another in March 2013, and received a reply.

China cut relations with the Vatican after the Communist Party took power and set up its own church outside the pope’s authority. China persecuted the church for years until restoring a degree of religious freedom and freeing imprisoned priests in the late 1970s. The Vatican under then-Pope Benedict XVI sought to improve ties by seeking to unify the state-sanctioned church with the underground church still loyal to Rome.

For the Vatican, the main stumbling block remains the insistence of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association on naming bishops without papal consent. For China, the naming of bishops is a matter of its national sovereignty, while it also objects that the Holy See has diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Upon his arrival in Seoul on Thursday, Francis called for peace and unity on the Korean peninsula, urging diplomacy so that listening and dialogue replace “mutual recriminations, fruitless criticisms and displays of force.”

A day later he stressed that Koreans are one people, “a family,” and that those in the South should pray for their brothers and sisters in the North.

Francis’ diplomatic outreach Sunday followed another gesture of solidarity earlier in the morning: He baptized the father of one of the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking, in which more than 300 people, most of them high school students, lost their lives.

Lee Ho Jin, whose son was killed, took the Christian name “Francis” during the rite, which the pope administered in the Vatican’s embassy in Seoul, according to the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Lee had been one of a dozen relatives of victims and survivors of the April ferry sinking who met privately with the pope Friday. He asked to be baptized and Francis agreed.

Francis has gone out of his way to show support for the Sewol ferry families, who are demanding an independent inquiry into the sinking. Aside from meeting publicly and privately with them, he has worn a symbolic yellow ribbon on his cassock in solidarity.

Lombardi has said Francis isn’t getting involved in their demands for a parliamentary inquiry, but is merely offering them support and prayers. He said Francis was particularly pleased to have been asked to perform a baptism since Korea’s Catholic Church has been growing steadily thanks in large part to an unusually high number of adult baptisms each year.

TIME South Korea

Pope Francis Meets Asian Youth and Sewol Ferry Survivors

Pope Francis Visits South Korea - Day Two
Pope Francis speaks in Daejeon, South Korea, on Friday, August 15. He is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. Getty Images

He also took to Twitter to urge young Koreans "to see the things in life that really matter"

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.

TIME South Korea

Pope Makes Tough Sell on Materialism in South Korea

Pope Francis
Pope Francis shakes hands with a nun as he arrives to attend a meeting with the bishops of Korea at the headquarters of the Korean Episcopal Conference in Seoul on Aug. 14, 2014 AP

Francis received a boisterous welcome on Friday from tens of thousands of young Asians

(DAEJEON, South Korea) — Pope Francis has urged Asia’s Catholic youth to renounce the materialism that afflicts much of Asian society today and reject “inhuman” economic systems that disenfranchise the poor, pressing his economic agenda in one of Asia’s powerhouses where financial gain is a key barometer of success.

Francis received a boisterous welcome Friday from tens of thousands of young Asians as he celebrated his first public Mass in South Korea, whose small but growing church is seen as a model for the rest of the world.

In his homily, Francis urged the young people to be a force of renewal: “May they combat the allure of a materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values and the spirit of unbridled competition which generates selfishness and strife.”

TIME South Korea

Pope’s Small Car Fascinates South Koreans

The pontiff requested a Kia Soul for his visit

+ READ ARTICLE

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Pope Francis’ choice of wheels during his five-day South Korean visit has surprised many in this painfully self-conscious country, where big shots rarely hit the streets in anything but expensive luxury cars.

After his arrival Thursday, the pope left the airport in a compact black Kia that many South Koreans would consider too humble a conveyance for a globally powerful figure.

In a live television broadcast, the pope climbed into the backseat of the boxy Kia Soul, rolled down the window and waved. Surrounded by a few bigger black sedans, the pope’s compact car headed toward Seoul.

Francis’ frugality and humble demeanor have received wide coverage in South Korea, a fiercely competitive country that celebrates ostentatious displays of status and wealth. This national trait can be seen in booming industries such as private tutoring and plastic surgery.

The images of the smiling pope in his little car struck a chord online, with many playing on the car’s name. One South Korean user tweeted: “The pope rode the Soul because he is full of soul.”

For the man called “The People’s Pope” the choice makes sense. He has eschewed the bulletproof “popemobiles” that his predecessors used on foreign trips and urged priests around the world to travel in low-key cars.

Inside the Vatican City, the pope prefers a blue Ford Focus, or when he’s out in St. Peter’s Square, a white open-topped vehicle that allows him to literally reach out and touch the masses.

South Korean media widely reported that the pope requested the smallest South Korean car during his visit. The Soul is Kia’s second-smallest model and reportedly provides more leg room than other compact cars.

Though not everyone loves the Soul’s funky design, it appeals to a niche of young, practical drivers. It has never, however, been a car of the rich and powerful.

Already bubbling with excitement over the first papal visit in 25 years, South Koreans appeared fascinated by the humble papal car.

“I feel honored that Pope Francis will not be in a bulletproof vehicle,” said Shon Cho-eun, a 22-year-old Christian student. “I hope he arrives safely and delivers good messages to us.”

TIME South Korea

Pope Francis Arrives in South Korea With a Message for All of Asia

Pope Francis Visits South Korea - DAY 1
Pope Francis walks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye upon his arrival on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pool—Getty Images

The Vatican says that Catholicism is growing faster in the region than anywhere else on Earth

Making the first trip to Asia by a Pontiff in 15 years, Pope Francis landed in South Korea on Aug. 14, beginning a five-day visit to one of Roman Catholicism’s few regional strongholds.

The Argentine, who made history as the first Latin American Pontiff, took the opportunity to hail the populous continent, where Catholic fervor is burgeoning in contrast to dwindling congregations in Europe. “As I begin my trip, I ask you to join me in praying for Korea and for all of Asia,” tweeted Pope Francis, whose visit will coincide with a large gathering of young Asian Catholics. In January 2015, he will return to Asia, with stops in Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

While in South Korea, the Pontiff will pray for peace for a divided Korean peninsula. On Thursday morning, less than an hour before Pope Francis landed in Seoul — where he was greeted by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, North Korean defectors and families of those who perished in the Sewol ferry disaster in April — North Korea fired three short-range rockets into the sea. Two more followed in the afternoon.

Much like in Eastern Europe during the Iron Curtain years, Catholic churches served as safe havens for South Korean human-rights defenders standing up to the dictatorships that held sway from the 1960s to the late 1980s. But the roots of Catholicism in Korea go back further than that. During his five-day visit, Pope Francis will beatify 124 Korean martyrs, including those who were persecuted in the 18th and 19th centuries by Confucian-bound dynastic rulers wary of foreign faiths. Around 10,000 Koreans are believed to have been killed for their faith.

Asia currently boasts the fewest number of Catholics of any region of the world, with only around 3% of Asians identifying as Catholics, according to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center. But the Vatican claims that Catholicism is growing faster in the region than anywhere else on earth, outstripping even Africa. The greatest numbers live in the Philippines, with roughly 80 million Catholics, or around 85% of the national population. India counts about 20 million believers, and the faith is believed to be growing in Vietnam. Yet tensions between Catholic communities and adherents to majority faiths like Islam have erupted in South Asia and Southeast Asia, sometimes violently.

In South Korea, the Catholic congregation has grown to about 5.4 million, or roughly 10% of the population. President Park was baptized at a Catholic church although her official biography says she holds no religious affiliation. Protestantism remains a more popular religion, although the primacy of evangelical mega-churches appears to have waned from an apex in the mid-90s. (Other South Koreans are Buddhists.)

In China, the ruling Communist Party maintains an official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association that has to answer in part to atheist apparatchiks. The Holy See and Beijing do not have formal diplomatic relations, since China refuses to recognize the Vatican’s sway over what have been termed “underground churches” or those professing loyalty to Rome. Nevertheless, a religious revival in recent years has seen the growth of many faiths, including underground Catholic worship as well as belief in the state-sanctioned church.

In a rare hopeful sign, Pope Francis’ plane was allowed to travel through Chinese air space on its way to South Korea, something his predecessors’ jets had not been able to do. Following papal tradition, Pope Francis issued a radio message to Chinese President Xi Jinping as his plane passed over the People’s Republic. “Upon entering Chinese airspace,” the Pope said, “I extend best wishes to your Excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation.”

Still, some Chinese Catholics who planned to join the Asian Youth Day in South Korea were dissuaded by Chinese authorities. On the Chinese side of the border with North Korea, foreign missionaries and charities (both Catholic and Protestant) have been facing scrutiny in recent weeks for what is officially illegal activity.

Meanwhile, on Monday, in Seoul, Pope Francis plans to hold a special mass praying for peace and reconciliation among the two Koreas. The same day, joint military exercises involving the U.S. and ally South Korea are slated to begin. North Korea will surely not be pleased.

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Goes to Korea: The Spiritual Meaning of Travel During Turmoil

The trip poses a new test for the Holy Father’s global spiritual leadership

+ READ ARTICLE

Pope Francis is headed to South Korea on Wednesday, in the midst of what continues to be a particularly difficult month for the world.

Violence in Gaza and Israel continues to escalate. Religious minorities in Iraq are fleeing ISIS brutality. The Ebola virus is spreading through West Africa. Children are flooding the United States border to escape Central American violence. A civilian airliner was downed in Ukraine amid Russian separatist fighting.

It is safe to say that global spirits are down, and it is a heavy overall context surrounding Pope Francis’ third international trip, a five-day visit to the southern half of a divided Korean peninsula. In Seoul, he will join Asian Youth Day, where thousands of Catholic youth from some 30 countries are gathered. He will also beatify dozens of 18th-and 19th-century Korean martyrs, meet with families of the recent Sewol ferry wreck, and give 11 speeches as he travels through four cities: Seoul, Daejeon, Kkottongnae, and Haemi.

On its face, the trip is important for some obvious political and religious reasons. It has been almost 20 years since a pontiff visited the continent. Pope John Paul II visited South Korea twice, in 1984 and in 1989, then the Philippines in 1995, but Pope Benedict XVI never made the trip. Pope Francis is expected to stress reconciliation and the problems of division, as he will be honoring Christians who died during periods of persecution. He also symbolically comes to minister to the Christians to the North as well, as the archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, is also the apostolic vicar for Pyongyang, meaning that he is appointed to guide the North Korean church as well, even if they are inaccessible.

Political relations with North Korea are off to an expectedly rocky start, as the country already turned down the invitation to send a delegation to Seoul for the Pope’s visit. Holy See spokesman Frederico Lombardi has made it clear that Pope Francis is not planning a visit to the Demilitarized Zone, and it does not seem likely that Pope Francis will announce that he is inviting North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Park Geun-hye to pray together at the Vatican—an approach he tried during a visit to Bethlehem to promote Middle East peace.

Francis’ trip will also be the first time that a pope’s plane flies through Chinese airspace. The Vatican does not have formal relations with Beijing, and the Chinese government did not permit Pope John Paul II to fly over the country in 1989, several months after the Tiananmen Square protests. It is customary for the Pope to send a message to the leaders of the countries he flies over, and so any message to China carries historic weight.

Religiously, Francis’ trip signals his continued focus on new regions of Catholic Church growth. Christianity in South Korea has grown exponentially in recent decades. In 1910, only 1% of the region identified as Catholic, Protestant, or with another denomination of Christianity. By 2010, that share had risen 29%, according to the Pew Research Center. Protestant Christianity, especially its evangelical and Pentecostal strains, is the more common variety: for every five Catholics in the country, there are about eight Protestants. But Francis is no stranger to evangelical strains of Catholicism, or to ecumenical moves bringing the two genres of Christianity together. It is a trend familiar to Latin and South America for decades, and so the first trip of the first Latin American Pope—one who personally knows the ins and outs of these two communities—has special meaning for a region that is experiencing similar change.

But there is another reason that this trip is important right now, and it is harder to quantify: the trip poses a new test for the Holy Father’s global spiritual leadership. It is easy for a religious figure to symbolize a new era of hope and peace when everything is peachy. It is another hallmark of spiritual influence altogether to inspire hope when violence abounds. What can a peace-making trip mean in the midst of such all-encompassing violence? Can he point to a hope that goes beyond mere words, to a hope that is somehow real?

How Pope Francis represents the answers those questions matters, not just for pilgrims in the Korean peninsula, but also for seekers across the world.

TIME South Korea

South Korean Protestants Rally Against Pope Francis’ Visit

South Korea Pope
Workers set a platform as they prepare for a special Korean reconciliation mass by Pope Francis at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul on Aug. 12, 2014 Ahn Young-joon—AP

Not everyone is happy about the Pontiff's trip

Around 10,000 South Korean Protestants gathered at a convention center near Seoul on Tuesday to protest Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the country.

The demonstration, organized by fundamentalist Protestants who view Catholicism as blasphemous, underscores tension among some denominations in South Korea, where nearly 30% of the population is Christian.

Participants in Tuesday’s protests, the Wall Street Journal reports, sought to undermine recent efforts by moderate Protestant leaders to reconcile differences with the country’s Roman Catholic establishment.

Pope Francis arrives on Thursday — making the first papal visit to East Asia in a quarter of a century — and will remain in South Korea for four days, during which he intends to beatify 124 Korean Catholics killed by dynastic leaders in the 18th and 19th centuries and also celebrate Asian Youth Day, a massive convention for the continent’s young Catholics.

There had been hopes that the Pope would be able to preach unity on the Korean peninsula, however these fell flat after authorities in Pyongyang declined his request to visit North Korea. The Associated Press reports that he will nevertheless issue a “message of peace and reconciliation for all Koreans.”

TIME North Korea

Activists Send Choco Pies Floating Into North Korea

North Korean defectors and South Korean activists prepare to release balloons to let them fly to the North, carrying chocolate pies and cookies during a rally against the North's recent threat at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, South Korea on July 30, 2014.
North Korean defectors and South Korean activists prepare to release balloons to let them fly to the North, carrying chocolate pies and cookies, at the Imjingak Pavilion in the South Korean town of Paju, near the border village of Panmunjom that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, on July 30, 2014 Ahn Young-joon—AP

"We will continue to send Choco Pie by balloons"

A year after North Korea cracked down on Choco Pies — marshmallow-filled chocolate cakes originating in South Korea — activists in South Korea sent thousands of the beloved confections over the border via helium balloons, Agence France-Presse reports.

About 200 activists released 50 balloons carrying hundreds of pounds of snacks, including 10,000 Choco Pies.

North Koreans working in South Korean factories in a joint industrial zone received the confections as perks, but their rarity in the North boosted their value and they soon became a sought after commodity. By 2010, according to South Korean media, more than 2 million were traded on the black market every month (though it’s unclear how exactly that figure was determined).

Last May, authorities in Pyongyang ordered the factories to stop handing out Choco Pies.

But on Wednesday, activists — who regularly send leaflets and other items across the border on balloons — said they will continue to deliver the pies across the border.

“We will continue to send Choco Pie by balloons because it is still one of the most popular foodstuffs, especially among hungry North Koreans,” Choo Sun-hee, one of the organizers, told AFP.

[AFP]

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