Pope Francis arrives in Seoul

2014-08-15 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has arrived in Korea, to begin a five-day pastoral visit, the highlights of which include the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs and the celebration of the 6th Asian Youth Day. Sean-Patrick Lovett reports from Seoul that the Holy Father's visit is dominating the headlines and capturing the attention of the entire nation:

Pope Francis is top story in all the nation’s papers and news shows today. Pictures of his smiling face continue to flash across screens and fill the front pages of the principal South Korean tabloids.

Most articles recall the fact that it’s been 25 years since the last papal visit to this country, they provide details of the Pope’s four-day schedule and itinerary, and seem to take special delight in quoting statistics and numbers relating to this trip. Just for fun, here are a few examples:

  • 180,000 hosts have been prepared for distribution at the Masses along with 300,000 bottles of water to help the faithful cope with the heat.
  • 1,700 buses are converging on the event sites from all over Korea, bringing with them some 100,000 pilgrims and over 100 Bishops.
  • 30,000 police men and women have been charged with maintaining security, assisted by around 5,000 volunteers, Catholic and non.
  • 2,800 journalists representing every possible medium are covering the visit which will see the Pope travelling a total of 1,000 kilometres.

A particularly interesting editorial invites the nation to express a “mea culpa”, as the headline suggests (yes, in Latin, with Korean characters, of course). The author lists the country’s ills and hopes Pope Francis will see fit to “absolve” Korea for its failure to address (among other things) political and social divisions, for what it calls “the generational conflict”, not to mention the unresolved division between North and South.

Several papers express great expectations for what they hope will be Pope Francis’s words and gestures towards the poor and disabled, in favour of peace and reconciliation, against discrimination and injustice, and in encouraging young people and renewal in the Church.

This may seem like an awful lot to be putting on the Pope’s plate but, in the words of one Korean journalist, his visit to this country is (and I quote): “the only good news in a long time”. Trademark yellow ribbons, shrines and banners all over the country testify to how much the nation is still in shock over the Sewol tragedy in May, when a 480-ft ferry boat capsized killing over 300 people, many of them high-school kids on a field trip.             

Wherever  the Pope goes, the hopes for healing – both spiritual and physical – go with him.

In Seoul, I’m Seàn-Patrick Lovett

(From archive of Vatican Radio)