- More than 1,000 volunteers and 300 employees are
working to prepare in every
detail Pope Francis' visit to Korea
between 14 to 18 August. He is coming to Daejeon to meet young people for
Asian Youth Day,
and to Seoul to beatify 124 Korean Martyrs.
Mgr Basil Cho Kyu Man, 59, auxiliary bishop of Seoul heads the organisation. He welcomed us into
his office, which is full of papers,
documents, secretaries. He told us that among Koreans, expectations are high.
every parish banners have been raised and prayers are being recited that this visit
may bear fruit. Catholics are not alone.
Most people, most Koreans are interested and want to attend.
"Pope Francis is a very famous personality," he said. "All
Koreans know his
way of doing and speaking, what he does for the poor, the sick. In recent months many of the pope's books
have been translated In Korea".
area chosen for the
beatification Mass on 16 August is Gwanghwamun Square, near the ancient imperial palace, one
of the most beautiful places in the
Gwanghwamun ("the gates of light") Square, which opens into a wide 10-lane road,
is the symbol of Korean
identity, embellished by the statues
of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, who in the late 16th century defeated
the Japanese fleet several times,
and that of King Sejong the Great, a reformer of
the fifteenth century.
Bishop Cho said that there
were doubts about the location, whether a larger venue near the river was
better. Eventually, "we decided for Gwanghwamun because it is in the centre, in the ancient city. The
martyrs lived in
that place and some were martyred and beheaded in the same place."
"Right near the place where the pope's altar
will be placed, there is a church
that commemorates the martyrdom of the blessed. In ancient times, there was
also the police station, where the
martyrs were likely locked up. The
place is also the heart of the
city, an expression of the history of Korea, inside the city,
in the central business district, which
is where we need to evangelise."
"The cordoned off area can contain
only 200,000 people," he explained. "Many
more can stand outside the police perimeter but we do not know how many." However, Bishop Cho does not expect the same crowds as in 1984, when John Paul II came. "Back then, his visit drew a million people. Some expect that in mid-August it will be
too hot, too tiring and too expensive to come
other issue will be security. "The
government," Mgr Cho said, "is very nervous."
In fact, "After Pope Francis publicly excommunicated the mafia in
Italy, the government became concerned that there might be some
repercussions. Behind the scene there is talk that the Koreans want tight security
and a bullet-proof car, whilst the Vatican does not want obstacles preventing the
pope from meeting people."
The meetings in Daejeon will also be important as
well. "Young people from 23 countries will be present. So far, 6,000 people have registered: 4,000 Koreans and 2,000 from abroad.
But I think many more will come without being registered; young people from
the Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong, Mongolia, and perhaps even China.
We have sent letters
of invitation to China, and we
know that young Chinese are coming, but we do not know how many they will be."
far we know that the largest group will come
from the Philippines, a neighbouring country, with
many Catholics. Then we have the Vietnamese and then those
from Hong Kong."
will have a very vocational
character with 2,000 young people who are preparing to
enter the seminary; plus more than
"On 15 August, 20 representatives from each
country will go to lunch with the pope. In
the afternoon they will all go to
Solmoe, near the martyrs' shrine,
to celebrate the Day."
sort of festival of cultures will be
held, in which each group will prepare a small representation.
Two young people will introduce the event, telling the pope
their situation, then the pope will deliver his speech."
last question for Mgr Basil was about his hopes for Pope Francis' visit. Walking the streets of Seoul one sees a developed country, an affluent society,
where God does not seem to be important and
where practical atheism is growing.
hope," he told me, "that seeing the Pope will lead to a new flowering of religiosity and discovery of the Catholic faith. When John Paul II
came (in 1984 and 1989), there was
a sharp increase in conversions to Catholicism. This pope's
visit will be a missionary
visit. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis said
that in the Church we are all
missionaries. He will push everyone,
priests and laity towards the mission.
Precisely for this reason, some Protestant
missionaries are concerned a little
about his visit, fearing his 'competition'."