Korean press picks up on peace during papal visit

2014-08-16 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The South Korean press has been covering from all angles Pope Francis’ 5 day apostolic journey to the country.  Our correspondent and head of Vatican Radio’s English Service, Sean Patrick Lovett is in Korea with the Pope.  He has been looking at what the local press has had to say about the papal visit.

Listen to Sean Patrick Lovett’s report


I’m not exactly a linguist but I must say my Korean is improving – slowly. Today I learned how to say “peace” (“pyeong hua”). That’s because, in Korean letters, it’s only two small characters. It’s also the word most often repeated in the articles and stories reporting on Pope Francis’ first day in the country.

Of course it was one of the words the Pope himself used most frequently in his two public discourses yesterday. But the fact it is so often picked up in the news reports is because the issue of peace is very much at the heart of a nation that is still officially at war with another country – North Korea.

The relationship (if you can even call it that) between north and south is complicated to say the least. The Pope’s arrival yesterday coincided with North Korea’s launching of five missiles into the sea. At the same time, the north has officially asked to participate in the Asian Games scheduled to be held in the south later this year. Hence Pope Francis’ comments regarding peace, reconciliation and unity are nearly always quoted by the press in full.   

The other issue that dominates the headlines is the ongoing polemic over the Sewol ferry disaster. Over 300 people, mostly high school students, drowned when the boat capsized off Korea’s south western coast on April 16th. Survivors, victim’s families, and many Koreans, are angry over the handling of the incident and there are daily demonstrations demanding a proper government investigation into the tragedy.

The Pope has met with family representatives and survivors twice so far (at the airport when he arrived and before the Mass in Daejeon), and will meet others at Myeong-dong Cathedral before he leaves on Monday. Obviously, the Korean press gives enormous symbolic importance to these encounters and dedicates abundant space to reporting on the same.    

By the way, it appears the Pope has invited another 600 family members to the Mass in Seoul tomorrow. When organisers asked him where to put them (since all 200,000 places have already been assigned), Pope Francis replied: “We’ll just have to make a sacrifice and squeeze up a little”.

In Seoul, I’m Seàn-Patrick Lovett. 

(From archive of Vatican Radio)