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Pope tells Asians to witness to Christ in all aspects of life

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Catholic News Service

SEOSAN, South Korea — Pope Francis told young Asian Catholic leaders to witness to Christ in everything they do.

Young women wait for Pope Francis to arrive to celebrate the closing Mass of the sixth Asian Youth Day at Haemi Castle in Haemi, South Korea, Aug. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Young women wait for Pope Francis to arrive to celebrate the closing Mass of the sixth Asian Youth Day at Haemi Castle in Haemi, South Korea, Aug. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

During his homily Aug. 17 on the muddy grounds of Haemi Fortress, Pope Francis urged more than 40,000 people, including young Catholic leaders from 22 Asian countries, to “reflect God’s love.” He reminded them it was their “right and duty to take part in the life of (their) societies.”

“Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life,” the pontiff said. He also urged them to discern “what is incompatible with your Catholic faith … and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt and lead to death.”

Young people are always choosing their social lives over other things, and this makes it complicated to “grow up in their faith also,” said Montira Hokjareon, a youth coordinator in Thailand’s Udon Thani diocese. She said it was especially hard for young Thai Catholics to practice their faith in a predominantly Buddhist country where less than half of 1 percent of the population is Catholic.

Hokjaroen, 34, was one of 20 participants who had lunch with Pope Francis Aug. 15. She told Catholic News Service it was good he nudged the youth leaders to evangelize, “because I think the people will learn (about) Jesus through us.”

Rain threatened the closing Mass for Asian Youth Day, which, unlike the massive international World Youth Day events, focuses more on youth leaders. At one point, the wind whipped off the pope’s cap.

Pope Francis emphasized the theme of this year’s gathering, “Asian Youth Wake Up, the Glory of the Martyrs Shines on You.”

“It’s no good when I see young people who sleep,” said the pontiff. “No. Wake up! Go! Go!”

Haemi Fortress was where thousands of Catholics were killed during a 100-year period in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 1700s laypeople formed the church based on Catholic writings that they got ahold of from China. The original founders pledged loyalty to God rather than the Korean king, which was socially unacceptable. The government pursued them for carrying out Catholic rites and baptisms, killing 10,000 faithful in the century beginning in 1791.

A day before the closing Mass, Pope Francis beatified 124 of the founders of the Korean Catholic Church, moving them a step closer to sainthood.

Michael Hwang of Seoul said being on these grounds was “exhausting emotionally,” because his ancestors were among those executed. But he said he was glad to be a part of Asian Youth Day because it brought him closer to other Catholics from Asia.

The pope said “to wake up and a lot of people can come together, and we could be like one nation,” said Hwang, a 17-year old high school student.

Hwang said his friends are not Catholic, “but I think Catholicism is a great thing and I can tell to my friends about how (being) Catholic is great, and this event will be a great background to teach or tell other people.”

Stephen Borja of Manila, Philippines, told CNS the founding of the church in Korea “is such a unique story, and it really touched me. How passionate they were about receiving the faith, standing up for it, even giving up their lives for it.”

Borja, 34, works with the youth commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. He said the pope’s words inspired him to show his faith to others, which is still a challenge in his predominantly Catholic country.

The three characteristics the pope identified for the church in Asia are “holier, more missionary and humbler,” he said. “Those are words I would carry with me and also with my work in the church.”

Pope Francis celebrated Mass at an altar made up of 16 wooden crosses that locked together like wooden blocks and were decorated by the youth. Readings and intercessions were in Filipino, Indonesian, Korean and other languages.

“As young Christians, whether you are workers or students, whether you have already begun a career or have answered the call to marriage, religious life or the priesthood, you are not only a part of the future of the church, you are also a necessary and beloved part of the church’s present,” said the pope.

He told young Asian to build “a church which loves and worships God by seeking to serve the poor, the lonely, the infirm and the marginalized.”
— By Simone Orendain

 

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Pope Francis calls on Catholics to dialogue with China, other Asian societies

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Catholic News Service SEOUL, South Korea — Speaking at the execution site of anonymous Korean martyrs, Pope Francis told Catholic bishops and young laypeople from across Asia to evangelize their continent through dialogue and openness, even with others suspicious or intolerant of the church. But he also urged them to challenge aspects of their cultures incompatible with Christian values.

Pope Francis delivers the homily during the closing Mass of the sixth Asian Youth Day at Haemi Castle in Haemi, South Korea, Aug. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis delivers the homily during the closing Mass of the sixth Asian Youth Day at Haemi Castle in Haemi, South Korea, Aug. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope spoke Aug. 17 at Haemi Castle, about 60 miles south of Seoul, where thousands of Catholics were imprisoned and tortured during the 19th century, and at a nearby shrine commemorating those killed. It was the last full day of his visit to Korea, the first of his pontificate to Asia. “On this vast continent which is home to a great variety of cultures, the church is called to be versatile and creative in her witness to the Gospel through dialogue and openness to all,” Pope Francis told several hundred Asian bishops, leaders of the church in a region that is only 3 percent Catholic. The pope then offered an example of his desired approach. “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,” the pope said. His statement was most obviously an overture to China, which has not had formal relations with the Vatican since shortly after the country’s 1949 communist revolution. It was the latest of Pope Francis’ several diplomatic gestures to Beijing since the start of his trip to Korea. During the papal flight from Rome Aug. 14, he sent a telegram of prayers and greetings to China’s President Xi Jinping. Two days later, in a question-and-answer session with young people, the pope notably declined to answer a man from Hong Kong 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 Catholic communities to register with the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, which has ordained bishops without the approval of the pope, and Chinese authorities have frequently arrested Catholics who reject government control. Speaking with reporters after the pope’s speech, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, noted that the Vatican does not have diplomatic relations with several Asian countries, including North Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Brunei and Bhutan. “This offer of the pope of dialogue is related to all these lands, and not just China, even if China is the biggest, as we know,” Father Lombardi said. In an off-the-cuff addition to his original text, Pope Francis evoked the attitude he hoped such countries would adopt to the church: “These Christians don’t come as conquerors, they don’t come to take away our identity. They bring us theirs, but want to travel with us.” “Some will ask for baptism, others will not, but we will always travel together,” the pope said. Fittingly, Pope Francis started the day by baptizing a Korean man, Lee Hojin, in a brief ceremony at the nunciature in Seoul where the pope has been staying. Lee, whose son was among more than 300 people killed in the April sinking of the Sewol ferry, met the pope Aug. 15 along with other family members and survivors of the disaster. He told the pope he had been preparing for two years to become a Catholic and now wanted the pope to baptize him. Lee took the baptismal name of Francis. The pope has shown special concern for the Sewol case; for three days in a row, in a remarkable departure from papal custom, he has worn a yellow-ribbon pin commemorating the victims. Pope Francis told the Asian bishops that dialogue required “empathy and sincere receptivity,” but also, as a “fundamental point of reference,” a clear sense of “our identity as Christians.” “If we are to speak freely, openly and fruitfully with others, we must be clear about who we are, what God has done for us, and what it is that he asks of us,” he said. The pope said Christian identity is constantly tempted by the “spirit of the world” in a number of ways, including relativism, which leads people to “forget that in a world of rapid and disorienting change, there is much that is unchanging, much that has its ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The pope returned to the theme of Christian identity, though without using the term, when he addressed more than 40,000 Asian Youth Day participants at the event’s closing Mass later in the day. “The Asian continent, imbued with rich philosophical and religious traditions, remains a great frontier for your testimony to Christ, the way, the truth and the life,” he said. “You have a right and a duty to take full part in the life of your societies. Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life. “You see and love, from within, all that is beautiful, noble and true in your cultures and traditions. Yet as Christians, you also know that the Gospel has the power to purify, elevate and perfect this heritage,” he told the young people. “You can appreciate the many positive values of the diverse Asian cultures. You are also able to discern what is incompatible with your Catholic faith, what is contrary to the life of grace bestowed in baptism, and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt and lead to death.”

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800,000 watch as Pope Francis beatifies 124 Korean martyrs

August 18th, 2014 Posted in Featured, International News Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

SEOUL, South Korea — Pope Francis placed 124 Korean martyrs on the last step toward sainthood in a beatification Mass Aug. 16 that brought elation to the 800,000 people in attendance.

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate the beatification Mass of Paul Yun Ji-chung and 123 martyred companions in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate the beatification Mass of Paul Yun Ji-chung and 123 martyred companions in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The sun was searing as Bishop Francis Ahn Myong-ok of Masan, president of the commission for the beatification, asked the pope to pronounce the martyrs blessed. After hearing a brief collective biography of 124 of the original founders of the Korean Catholic Church, Pope Francis pronounced the formula of beatification.

With his words, trumpets blared and a huge swath depicting a watercolor of the newly blessed martyrs in heaven was unfurled on the side of a large building facing the square where the faithful gathered. People laughed and cheered as the image also popped up on the giant video monitors along the more than one-mile stretch.

“It was very great to see Papa Francis,” Sophia Moon, 26, told Catholic News Service. “He was very touching to us because in Korea there have been very hard times and there were (people who became martyrs).”

The 124 were killed for their beliefs, setting off a 100-year period in the 18th and 19th centuries when the Korean government went after about 10,000 faithful who pledged filial piety to God, not the king of Joseon. Among this group was Paul Yun Ji-Chung, the very first Korean to be executed for his faith after he buried his mother using Catholic rites that completely went against the norms of the heavily Confucian society.

In his homily, the pope said, “So often we today can find our faith challenged by the world, and in countless ways we are asked to compromise our faith, to water down the radical demands of the Gospel and to conform to the spirit of this age.”

“Yet the martyrs call out to us to put Christ first and to see all else in this world in relation to him and his eternal kingdom. They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for,” he said.

Seyeon Jeong, 26, said she had an 18th-century ancestor who “actually sacrificed himself as a Catholic” but was not among the newly blessed.

“I was born a Catholic and I have been living as a Catholic, but through this Mass I can actually realize the meaning, I mean the full meaning of what the sacrifice meant here,” she said. “I could actually feel my ancestor’s spirit.”

Pope Francis credited the martyrs with showing the “importance of charity in the life of faith,” since their belief in the “equal dignity of all the baptized” led them to challenge the “rigid social structures of their day.”

Moments before the Mass, the pope greeted the faithful as he traveled via popemobile along the stretch from Seoul’s City Hall to Geongbok Palace, the backdrop of a temporary altar. Geongbok is described by South Korea’s tourism bureau as the grandest of the Joseon-era palaces.

Among those who attended the Mass were about 300 U.S. military personnel and 400 family members of the victims of the Sewol ferry accident, which left more than 300 dead in April.

The Sewol group had been protesting at the square for weeks, demanding that a special law be passed for an independent investigation into the accident. They were determined to remain during the beatification Mass in hopes of an encounter with the pope. After days of negotiations, the committee handling the pope’s visit granted access, and they got their wish.

When Pope Francis swung by on the popemobile, many called out to him, pointing at the family members and one grieving father who had been on a hunger strike for more than a month.

Kim Young-oh, father of a teenage girl who died in the capsized ferry, told CNS the pope grabbed his hands and, because a fence separated them and he could not hug the pope, he laid his forehead twice on the pope’s hands.

Kim said he asked to give him a letter and the pope nodded and tucked it into his cassock.

“I was really prepared to meet the pope and (spell) out that there is a strong need for this bill, and we’re really fighting for this bill,” said Kim through an interpreter. “After this long time on this (hunger) strike I kind of succeeded (by) meeting the point person. I saw real hope.”

— By Simone Orendain

 

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Asian youths inspired after pope challenges them

August 16th, 2014 Posted in Featured, International News

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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.

Pope Francis gestures as a young man takes a selfie during a meeting with Asian youth at the Sanctuary of Solmoe in South Korea Aug. 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis gestures as a young man takes a selfie during a meeting with Asian youth at the Sanctuary of Solmoe in South Korea Aug. 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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.

— By Simone Orendain

 

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Pope says forgiveness key to reconciling divided Korea

August 15th, 2014 Posted in Featured, International News

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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.”

Pope Francis attends a welcoming ceremony with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the garden of the Blue House in Seoul Aug. 14. The pope will beatify Korean martyrs and participate in the sixth Asian Youth Day during his five-day visit to South Korea. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis attends a welcoming ceremony with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the garden of the Blue House in Seoul Aug. 14. The pope will beatify Korean martyrs and participate in the sixth Asian Youth Day during his five-day visit to South Korea. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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.

 

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Francis tells Koreans to resist materialism

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Catholic News Service

SEOUL, South Korea — Celebrating Mass before some 50,000 people, Pope Francis prayed that Christian values overcome demoralization in economically successful societies.

“The hope held out by the Gospel is the antidote to the spirit of despair that seems to grow like cancer in societies which are outwardly affluent yet often experience inner sadness and emptiness,” the pope said Aug. 15 in his homily at the World Cup Stadium in Daejeon.

Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass on the feast of the Assumption in World Cup Stadium in Daejeon, South Korea, Aug. 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass on the feast of the Assumption in World Cup Stadium in Daejeon, South Korea, Aug. 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope voiced his hope that Christians in South Korea, the world’s 13th-largest economy, might “combat the allure of a materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values and the spirit of unbridled competition, which generates selfishness and strife.”

“May they also reject inhumane economic models which create new forms of poverty and marginalize workers, and the culture of death which devalues the image of God, the God of life, and violates the dignity of every man, woman and child,” he said.

Just before he dressed for the Mass, Pope Francis met outside the sacristy with 10 people involved in the April Sewol ferry disaster. Some were survivors of the incident that left 300 people, mostly teens, dead; some were relatives, and a few priests were among the group.

The pope embraced and blessed them, placing his hand on their heads. Some wiped away tears.

One man, who had been preparing for two years to become a Catholic, said he had suffered deeply because his son had died in the ferry disaster. He said he had walked hundreds of kilometers, round trip, from his town to the site of the accident, on a type of pilgrimage.

He asked the pope to baptize him, and Pope Francis agreed to baptize him privately at the nunciature Aug. 16, before the Mass to beatify 124 Korean martyrs.

At the end of Mass, before praying the Angelus, the pope mourned those killed when the Sewol sank.

“May this tragic event, which has brought all Koreans together in grief, confirm their commitment to work together in solidarity for the common good,” he said.

Pope Francis’ sobering words stood in contrast to the ebullience of the crowd, and of the pope himself, as he entered the stadium in an open-sided popemobile. The pope had traveled the 85 miles from Seoul by train instead of helicopter as originally planned. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said authorities thought the train would be safer because of rainy weather. The spokesman said Pope Francis had never ridden a high-speed rail and welcomed the experience.

As he entered the stadium, he was greeted by thousands of people performing the wave and holding signs of welcome, including a banner reading “we love you” in Italian.

The day was overcast but warm and humid, with temperatures reaching the mid-80s. Before the Mass, members of the congregation were asked not to fan themselves with the hats or booklets during the liturgy. Many women wore white lace veils, a tradition still widely practiced in Korea.

The pope celebrated the Mass, for the feast of the Assumption, in Latin, with the readings and responses in Korean. He delivered his homily in Italian.

 

 

 

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Pope Francis arrives in South Korea, calls for peace, democracy and social justice

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Catholic News Service

SEOUL, South Korea — Starting his first visit to Asia, Pope Francis urged South Korean political and civic leaders to seek peace on their divided peninsula and strengthen their nation’s commitment to democracy and social justice.

“Peace is not simply the absence of war, but the work of justice,” the pope said Aug. 14 in a speech at Seoul’s Blue House, the official residence of President Park Geun-hye.

Addressing some 200 government officials, Pope Francis noted that the country, divided between North and South since the end of the Korean War in 1953, “has long suffered because of a lack of peace,” and he praised

“efforts being made in favor of reconciliation and stability.”

Pope Francis arrives with South Korean President Park Geun-hye for a welcoming ceremony in the garden of the Blue House in Seoul Aug. 14. The pope will beatify Korean martyrs and participate in the sixth Asian Youth Day during his five-day visit to South Korea. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives with South Korean President Park Geun-hye for a welcoming ceremony in the garden of the Blue House in Seoul Aug. 14. The pope will beatify Korean martyrs and participate in the sixth Asian Youth Day during his five-day visit to South Korea. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Introducing the pope before his speech, President Park said the war “still casts a shadow” over Korea, “dividing not only the country but so many families.”

Tensions with communist North Korea have risen markedly in recent years, especially over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear arms. Less than an hour before the pope’s plane landed in Seoul, North Korea fired three short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan in the latest of a large number of missile tests it began launching in March.

Pyongyang had already refused the church’s request to send a delegation of Catholics to the South for the pope’s visit.

“Korea’s quest for peace is a cause close to our hearts, for it affects the stability of the entire area and indeed of our whole war-weary world,” the pope said.

Speaking in English in public for first time as pope, he told diplomats in the audience, who included envoys of other Asian countries, that they faced the “perennial challenge of breaking down the walls of distrust and hatred by promoting a culture of reconciliation and solidarity.”

That task, he said, “demands that we not forget past injustices but overcome them through forgiveness, tolerance and cooperation.”

Pope Francis practiced some diplomacy of his own earlier in the day. As his plane entered Chinese airspace, the first time any papal flight had passed over the country, he sent a telegram of prayers and greetings to China’s President Xi Jinping.

The Vatican and the Chinese government have struggled over issues of religious freedom, including the pope’s right to appoint bishops, and have not had diplomatic relations since shortly after China’s 1949 communist revolution.

In a statement faxed to news agencies, China’s foreign ministry acknowledged the pope’s telegram and said its government is willing to work with the Vatican to improve bilateral relations.

The pope’s gesture was undercut by Korean press reports that Chinese authorities had arrested young people planning to attend an Asian Youth Day event with Pope Francis. A spokesman for the South Korean committee organizing the papal visit confirmed that some Chinese had been unable to travel to Korea.

“Maybe it’s because of the Chinese local situation or some complicated situation in China,” Father Heo Young-yeop told reporters Aug. 14, but said he would not say more out of “fear for the safety” of the Chinese youths in Korea after they return to China.

In his speech to the South Korean authorities, the pope noted some of their country’s domestic problems, including “political divisions, economic inequities and concerns about the responsible stewardship of the natural environment.”

Addressing such challenges, he said, requires that the “voice of every member of society be heard, and that a spirit of open communication, dialogue and cooperation be fostered.” He also expressed hope for the strengthening of Korean democracy, which replaced authoritarian rule in the late 1980s after a popular movement in which Catholics played a prominent role.

The pope urged the leaders to show special concern for the “poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice, not only by meeting their immediate needs but also by assisting them in their human and cultural advancement.”

He said South Korea, the world’s 13th-largest economy, should be a “leader also in the globalization of solidarity which is so necessary today: one which looks to the integral development of every member of our human family.”

President Park met Pope Francis’ plane in the morning at a military air base south of Seoul. Both of them voiced hopes that the pope’s Aug. 14-18 visit would help promote reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.

Also greeting the pope’s plane were family members of some of the 300 people killed in the April sinking of the Sewol ferry.

“My heart aches for you,” the pope told them. “I remember the victims.”

Other relatives were demonstrating during the pope’s visit, demanding that the government appoint an independent investigation of the disaster.

In the afternoon, the president welcomed the pope to the Blue House, named for the color of the tiles on its roof, where the two leaders reviewed an honor guard before meeting in private with a few advisers. In the customary exchange of gifts, Pope Francis presented President Park with a panoramic map of Rome, one of only 300 copies engraved and printed by hand to mark the jubilee year 2000.

President Park gave the pope a piece of embroidered fabric as an example of traditional Korean craftsmanship.

 

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Lebanon’s Maronite bishops condemn Islamist incursions

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Catholic News Service

BEIRUT (CNS) — Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic bishops underscored their “full confidence” in the country’s military and security forces as the Lebanese army battled Islamist militants’ incursion into Lebanon near the border with Syria.

Clashes erupted Aug. 2 in Arsal, about 55 miles northeast of Beirut, following the arrest of a man said to be linked to al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the al-Nusra Front. Read more »

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Pope asks for international action to help Iraq’s persecuted Christians

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis asked Catholics around the world to pray for tens of thousands of Christians from villages in northeastern Iraq who were forced from their homes in the middle of the night by Islamic State militants.

The pope also made a “pressing appeal to the international community to take initiatives to put an end to the humanitarian drama underway, to take steps to protect those involved and threatened by violence and to ensure the necessary aid for so many displaced people whose fate depends on the solidarity of others,” the Vatican spokesman said Aug. 7. Read more »

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Both sides victimize innocent people in Gaza fighting, church leaders say

August 1st, 2014 Posted in International News Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The president of Caritas Internationalis suggested Israeli and Hamas leaders pick up a pair of binoculars so they could see that “most of your victims are innocent people.”

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, president of the Vatican-based umbrella organization for national Catholic charities, said peace is impossible without reconciliation, and reconciliation requires recognizing each other as human beings.

Sister Muna Totah, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, comforts Mansour Ghobon, 51, of Gaza at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem July 30. Ghobon is one of 23 Gaza patients being treated at the hospital, which specializes in head- and chest-trauma wounds. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

Sister Muna Totah, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, comforts Mansour Ghobon, 51, of Gaza at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem July 30. Ghobon is one of 23 Gaza patients being treated at the hospital, which specializes in head- and chest-trauma wounds. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

“Israel and Hamas, why do you keep pointing out the speck in the eye of your brother while missing the plank in your own eye?” the cardinal asked in a statement published July 31.

“As Caritas,” he said, “we pray for peace in the Holy Land. We pray for the Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost their children, mothers and fathers, and for those who have been killed. Our prayers are with the children who live in terror and whose mental scars will run deep long after this war is over.”

Despite the violence, the cardinal prayed that Palestinians and Israelis “will remain free to believe in a future of justice and peace.”

“This is the third war in five years between Israel and militants in Gaza,” the cardinal said. “In the intervening years, Palestinians in Gaza have lived a life where water is scarce, much of their food comes from humanitarian organizations and where the dignity of a job is beyond many people’s reach.”

On Aug. 1, shortly after what was to be a 72-hour cease-fire, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem said temporary halts in fighting obviously are good, but unless Israel changes its policies toward Gaza, the desperation of residents will continue to lead to violence.

“If conditions in Gaza remain that of a desperate land under siege, where the only things that grow are fear and frustration that spur hatred,” then a temporary cease-fire will have no lasting impact, he told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

“It almost seems as if the point is to make Gaza a factory for desperate people who are easy to transform into extremists ready for anything,” the patriarch said.

The next step, he said, must be lifting the Israeli blockade of Gaza. “Even the tunnels” dug by Hamas and a primary target of Israel’s military action, “are a product of the embargo. If the siege ends, if roads are opened and the free movement of persons and products is permitted, if people are allowed to fish in the sea” along the Gaza coast, then “no one will need to dig tunnels.”

The patriarch did not say Hamas militants are innocent. In fact, he seemed to put part of the blame on them for the high percentage of victims who are children and women.

“Just think of the fact that of all the tunnels, Hamas never thought to build underground refuges for the people,” he said.

 

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