Pope Francis concluded his first trip to Asia today with a call for Koreans to end their two countries more than 60 years of division and to work for the marginalized who “don’t share in the prosperity of the many.”
At a “Mass for Peace and Reconciliation” at Seoul’s Myeong-dong Cathedral to mark the end of a five-day trip to South Korea, the first by a pope in a quarter century, Francis called on Koreans to “reject a mindset shaped by suspicion, confrontation and competition.”
“Let us pray for the emergence of new opportunities for dialog, 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.
For Francis, the trip was an opportunity to reach out to Catholics in one of the fastest-growing regions for the faith that is helping offset slowing growth in Europe and the U.S. His message of humility and his defense of the poor also resonates in South Korea, where the country’s economic boom has come with deepening social inequality.
The pope called on South Koreans “to examine the quality of their own contribution to the building of a truly just and humane society.”
Thousands of people gathered outside the cathedral to follow the mass and lined up in a steady rain to take communion.
Prior to the mass, the pope met with with surviving so-called comfort women, who were forced into sexual servitude by Japanese troops before and during World War II. The issue continues to disrupt bilateral relations between the two countries, with South Korea saying Japan must do more to atone for its past militarism and compensate the surviving victims before relations can improve.
The pope blessed the seven women in front of the Seoul cathedral and accepted a remembrance pin, which he affixed to his vestments.
How much the pope’s message of reconciliation penetrates North Korea, where access to the Internet and mass media is under government control, remains to be seen.
Kim Jong Un’s government refused to allow any North Korean Catholics to travel to the South to participate in the visit. North Korea also launched a series of rockets on Aug. 14, the day of the pope’s arrival on the peninsula.
During his visit, the pope attended Asia Youth Day, where tens of thousands of young Catholics from across the region gathered in Daejeon. He also met and prayed with the families of the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking. More than 300 people died in the accident, most of them high school students.