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Pope in Seoul Urges Charity, Laments Growing Economic Inequality

Pope Francis
South Korean flags are waved as Pope Francis meets with worshippers after arriving in Kkottongnae, around 80 kilometres south of Seoul, on August 16, 2014. Photographer: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis urged greater charity for the poor and lamented growing economic disparities as he beatified 124 Korean martyrs on the third day of his first visit to Asia.

“Their example has much to say to us who live in societies where, alongside immense wealth, dire poverty is silently growing; where the cry of the poor is seldom heeded,” he said today at a mass in downtown Seoul. “The legacy of the martyrs can inspire all men and women of good will to work in harmony for a more just, free and reconciled society.”

Francis has championed poverty causes and criticized speculation in financial markets since his election in March last year. He has also cast aside some of the traditional pomp of the papacy, including luxury “Popemobiles,” riding in a Kia Motors Corp. Soul compact car since he landed in South Korea on Aug. 14, the first papal visit to the country in a quarter century.

Hundreds of thousands of people showed up to see the pope, including relatives of the more than 300 victims of the April Sewol ferry sinking. Francis was seen in a television broadcast stepping down from his car to commiserate with Kim Young Oh, father of one of the 250 students who died.

Beatification is a formal declaration that someone lived a holy life, a step toward canonization as a saint. Those beatified today included Yun Ji-chung Paul, the first Korean martyr, who was beheaded in 1791 and Yi Bong-geum, a teenager hanged in 1839, according to organizers.

Francis yesterday attended a gathering of Catholic youths from Asian countries in the city of Daejeon, and led prayers for victims of the Sewol ferry disaster in a mass.

Francis’ trip to South Korea marks the first papal visit to Asia in 15 years. The region is home to more than half of the world’s people and has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations.

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