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Pope Francis will make his first trip to Asia as Pope in August, visiting South Korea to beatify 124 Korean martyrs and bring a message of peace to the divided peninsula, the Vatican announced today.
Francis will lead celebrations at a major Catholic youth festival, Asian Youth Day. According to AsiaNews a special Mass for peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula will take place during his stay.
The trip, scheduled for 14-18 August, will be Francis’ second foreign visit this year after a visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in May.
The journey marks the first papal visit to Korea in 25 years. Pope John Paul II travelled to the country in 1984, when he canonised 103 Korean martyrs, and again in 1989.
Pope Francis told reporters last summer on the flight back from Brazil, his first foreign trip as Pope, that he wanted to go to Asia because Pope Benedict XVI never managed to get to the continent, aside from a brief trip to Turkey in 2006.
The Church in South Korea is fast-growing, increasing from three million to five million members between 2002 and 2012, according to the Archbishop Emeritus of Seoul, Nicolas Cheong.
Francis last month approved the beatification of another 124 Korean martyrs. Around 10,000 Catholics, most of them laity, were killed for their faith in successive waves of persecution in nineteenth-century Korea where Confucianism was the predominant ideology.
The beatification ceremony is expected to take place on the feast of the Assumption, 15 August, according to AsiaNews, which also reported that organisers are planning a Mass during the visit "dedicated solely to North Korea”.
Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, Bishop of Daejeon, where Asian Youth Day is to take place, spoke at last year’s World Youth Day in Brazil. "Many Korean martyrs are from my diocese," he said. "I hope that the young people who come in August will be inspired by these stories.”
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted Bishop Peter Kang U-il, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, as saying the visit would also help bring peace to the peninsula, where North and South have been in a near-constant standoff since the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.