Seoul (AsiaNews) – A year after Pope Francis’ visit to South Korea, "the message he left us touched the heart of many people who now feel compelled to seek a better life. And I hope to be the first one to have changed,” said Mgr Lazzaro You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejeon.
The prelate, who chairs the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, spoke to AsiaNews on the first anniversary of the pope’s apostolic pilgrimage to his country, which took place on 13-18 August 2014.
During his five-day stay in South Korea, Francis beatified 124 martyrs (Paul Yun Ji-chung and his companions, all lay people, first witnesses of the Gospel during the Joseon persecution). He also participated in the Asian Youth Day and visited nursing homes.
Throughout his visit, Francis urged the Church and the Korean people to go beyond the culture of death and consumerism, to rediscover the beauty of the commitment to the weakest and the grace of mercy. This hit its target, and the effects were soon visible.
"Last year baptisms jumped by 5 per cent, and in general we see a positive trend after stalling in 2010,” Seoul Archbishop Andrew Card Yeom Soo-jung told AsiaNews.
“Everyone agrees that it is the so-called Francis effect. However, it is not only about numbers. The pope brought to the fore the memory of the martyrs, hope and the commitment to the poorest. And that is what we are trying to do now."
For the prelate, the meeting between Francis and young people was very important. "The pastoral ministry towards them is a priority in our archdiocese. The world is facing a sad reality that we cannot ignore: young people are turning away from the faith. This is why I hope to be able to host World Day of Youth in 2019."
A two-day commemoration will be held for young people in the Diocese of Daejeon. “We are going to hold a big meeting with young people and families at Solmoe, one of the main Korean martyrs’ site,” said the bishop. “About 1,500 people are planning to come. And we are going to play some videos with the pope’s homilies and together reflect on the message he left us."
On the morning of the feast of the Assumption, the bishop – along with civil authorities and other religious leaders – will walk for five kilometres to the martyrs’ locations. The march will end with mutual foot washing. “This is one way to express our closeness and our humility before those who preceded us."
When he visited the peninsula, "the pope also asked the Church to convert, which is what we are trying to do,” Mgr You said. “The pope asked us to be for the poor, involved in service and the mission. This demand is taking hold. If you say you like Francis but you do not put into practice what you say, that is no good. That is why we must strive more and more, all together."
The local Catholic Church plans to lay a stone at a ceremonial plaza in downtown Seoul to commemorate the first anniversary of Pope Francis' first visit to South Korea.
The commemorative floor tile will be put on the northern tip of Gwanghwamun Plaza, where the pope led a mass to beatify Korean martyrs a year ago before a million people. Card Andrew Yeom Soo-jung will lead the ceremony to unveil the stone on 23 August.
"The Gwanghwamun area where the Beatification Mass was held is where many early Korean Catholics were killed for their faith," the archdiocese said. "Now this place will become another place of pilgrimage symbolising freedom and equality."
"The pope's visit has certainly left a big mark on the population and among Catholics,” said Fr Maurizio Giorgianni, an Oblate missionary of Mary Immaculate who has been in South Korea since January 1993.
“The thing to note is that during the visit Francis beatified 124 martyrs, who are an example and a point of great pride for this Church. It is good to see that the faithful not only remember the ‘party’ aspect of the papal visit, but also emphasise spirituality and the legacy of our fathers in faith."
"Just a year ago, on 14 August, I met the pope during his meeting with Korean bishops in Seoul,” Fr Maurizio said. “It was a beautiful and exciting moment, which somehow renewed my vocation and mission. The pope asked and continues to ask all of us priests to be close to our faithful, and that is what I’ll try to do in my own small way thanks to his example."