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Pope Francis’ Korea trip was a “wake-up call” for the Church in Asia, the president of the country’s Bishops’ Conference said as the papal plane left for Rome this morning.
The Bishop of Cheju, Peter Kang U-il, said that Francis, in Korea for five days for the sixth Asian World Youth Day, demonstrated that peace was born of justice and compassion, and must not result in “stale charity”.
He said that Francis’ own example of humility was particularly relevant to South Korea, which since the war has overcome poverty to become the world's thirteenth-largest economy, recalling his insistence at a Mass for the Feast of the Assumption in Daejeon in central South Korea on Friday that they do not leave the poorest behind.
“The most important thing is that solidarity towards the poor should not be understood as mere material aid. The pontiff literally walked for five days to demonstrate his vision of the human being and the world,” he told Asia News
Humility, human dignity and the poor were central themes of the five-day visit, which opened on Thursday with Francis’ plea to the President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, to pursue peace with the North because “it affects the stability of our whole war-weary world” and closed with his strongest call for peace and reconciliation at a Mass this morning.
Between telling Korean bishops not to let their country's "prosperous, yet increasingly secularised and materialistic society" distract the Church from its essential duty to evangelise and calling on Korea’s young Catholics to “wake up” at the Asian Youth Day Mass on Sunday, Francis met with about 70 disabled adults and children at the "House of Hope" in Kkottongnae and prayed at the Garden of Aborted Children, a cemetery there.
Pope Francis struck a chord with Korean Catholics by travelling in the smallest available South Korean car, a Kia Soul, throughout the visit, on Friday shunning the papal helicopter and taking a local train from Seoul to Daejeon.
Before this morning’s Mass at Seoul’s Myeong-dong Cathedral Francis prayed with women who were forced to work as sex slaves during the Second World War.
“Let us pray ... for 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,” the Pope said during the Mass, which concluded as the choir sang: “our wish is unification”.
During the visit Pope Francis also stressed South Korea’s key role as a bridge-builder between the Vatican and those Asian countries with which the Holy See does not have formal diplomatic relations, including China and North Korea.
On Sunday he diverted from his prepared speech to urge 80 Korean bishops to work towards dialogue with those countries, explaining during a meeting at the Haemi shrine in Seoul: “Christians aren’t coming as conquerors; they aren’t trying to take away [people’s] identity”.
The Pope was due to greet the Chinese Government for a second time this afternoon as he flew over the country, reiterating the unprecedented greeting he sent on the outbound flight, which had to be re-sent by the Italian embassy after it emerged a technical glitch meant the message never reached Beijing.
During the visit Francis baptised the father of a young victim of this year’s Sewol ferry tragedy. Demonstrations calling for a full inquiry into the accident that killed more than 476 people at one point threatened to overshadow the visit. Pope Francis wore a yellow ribbon on his cassock throughout the trip to express his solidarity with victims and their families.
On Saturday he beatified 124 Korean Martyrs at Gwanghwamun Gate in Seoul before a crowd Korean media reported to be one million people strong.
Above: Pope Francis meets with religious leaders in South Korea. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring
Women pray as Pope Francis celebrates Mass for peace and Korean unity. Photo: CNS/paul Haring
Pope Francis baptizes father of victim of South Korea ferry accident, Photo: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, pool