Daejeon (AsiaNews) - A few days ahead of Pope Francis' visit to South Korea, "political" interpretations for his trip abound: a signal to China; a gesture to Kim Jong-un; a nod to Japan ... This risks camouflaging the fact that the entire trip was created especially to meet the young people of Korea and Asia, to launch a new evangelization among the Asian youth.
The real catalyst behind the Pope's decision to come to the Far East - the first Papal visit in 23 years! - aas a letter penned by Msgr. Lazzaro You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejeon, who the Asian bishops had tasked with the Asian Youth Day (AYD), which will be held August 10 to 17 in his own diocese.
"I knew - he says - that Pope Francis remains in Rome in August, he read books, listens to music. And then I got the idea: it would be nice if in August, the Pope could come to Korea to take part in the AYD! And I thought: 2 thousand young people will come here, hopefully to have a wonderful experience. But we must think of the other young people, the young people who are not so easy to meet: We need to create a new evangelization for the young! But to do this you have to move bishops and priests. I could not do it, but the Pope could".
With an infectious joy Msgr. You, 63, describes how he wrote to the Pope, spoke with Card. Parolin, with the substitute Msgr. Angelo Becciu, with Card. Filoni and finally with the Pope himself who told him: "You wrote to me! You wrote to me! When I read your letter, I felt something move in my heart: I had to go to Korea! I immediately asked Msgr. Becciu if I already had made commitments in that period and I saw that I was free".
Preparations were far from simple: Msgr. You had to write letters for every young person invited to the AYD for their visa to Korea. Only those who come from Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan do not need visas. But now everything is ready: 2 thousand young people from abroad and 4 thousand from Korea will take part in the AYD; another 20-30 thousand young people will join them. "In the early days - says the bishop - they will stay with Korean families, on the 13th they will be Salmoe [the hometown of St. Andrea Kim, Korean martyr] to open the AYD. On the 15th, the Pope will arrive. Before the Pope delivers his address, three young people, a Chinese from Hong Kong, a Cambodian, a Korean will say a few words. Then it will Francis' turn. I think he will be like a volcano who will inflame the hearts of these young people".
Msgr. You describes the difficulties that young people face: "More than other countries, in Korea young people are encouraged to compete, to win all the time, to outdo one another right from elementary school. In Confucian society your educational qualification really counts and helps you to rise up the ranks in society. The first Christian community in Korea was famous because, thanks to the Gospel, it made no distinction between noble and common people, between rich and poor. This overcoming of the classes was just one of the contributions that the Church has made to the nation. Nevertheless, even now there are those pushed to compete, to overcome all obstacles. And the Church finds it difficult to meet young people because they are always doing something to help them climb the ladder: sport, music, private lessons.
As young people grow up many grow away from the faith. About 30% of elementary school age Catholic children come to mass; in high school is more or less the same percentage; but at a university level, the percentage drops to 5%. Many universities do not practice the faith: study, the desire to achieve, to drive of professional ambition distances them.
Practical atheism, materialism is rampant and inhibits Christianity. This is because even in Korea, bit by bit, the family and the educational capacity of fathers and mothers is being destroyed. Once in Korea, it was a shame to divorce. Now its something to boast about. Among Catholics, the average number of divorces is slightly lower than the national average".
Despite these difficulties, the Korean Church is growing every year and has reached 10% of the population while many young people ask for baptism. "Until 30 years ago - said Msgr. You - young people were attracted by social justice [when the country was under dictatorship- ed.] Now what moves them is service to the poor, the marginalized. And we Catholics offer them opportunities to work, to sweat, to give time to those in need and this makes them happy.
Even adults become Catholics for this same reason. For example in the diocese we have two buses that are mobile soup kitchens: we move to different towns and prepare lunch for the poor and homeless. Sometimes I go with them to help serve meals. People see and understand that the Church is for the people; they see that we do not seek to earn money from these activities, they trust in the Church because they see our transparency, they we are not telling lies or trying to get rich. And this is how the Church grows".
In addition to awakening young people to the faith, the Bishop of Daejeon believes the Pope's visit will help launch the Korean Church to mission in Asia and the world.
"We believe - he says - that the coming of the Pope will be a more decisive thrust for evangelization. John Paul II's visit in 1984, was an awakening for the Korean Church, his visit in 1989 was an opportunity to open up to society. This time, I think that the Pope will lead us to mission in Asia and the world. And I think this is also the Pope's great hope".
The Asian continent, says the bishop, is home to many cultures and religions, but "wherever the culture is evangelized in Asia, there is a better quality life, society has more human expressions. Certainly, evangelisation should not be forced, but follow a Marian, it should be nurturing, humble, helpful. Everyone is waiting for this testimony: Koreans and Asians have great desire of God".
The contribution that the Christian faith gives Asian cultures is crucial. "In Asia - he says - people still believe in myths, static images that ultimately have no influence in every day life: there is no concept of history. Instead, for Christians, history is important because God entered history and started a new, better history, through which we can change the world. Without history, you cannot conceive or build a unified society".
Another contribution is the concept of the person: in Asian society the human being is not conceived as a person, with dignity and rights.
And if there is no person, then there can be no community of brotherhood and sharing. Among us there are only groups, clans, ethnic groups, associations for a limited purpose.
These three concepts - history, people, community - are very important to inculturation in Asia because through these people and society are transformed. And how is it done? Offering a model. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two so that people could see how they loved each other, and thus wanted to convert. Even during the early persecutions, the Christian communities have grown in number. And why? Because there was a new relationship, of love between people of different walks of life".
"For all of these reasons - conlcuded Msgr. You - Pope Francis is beginning his journey to Asia with a meeting with young people, a sign of the future, and from a place where the memory of the martyrs is alive. Martyrs are those who lived faith and life, orthodoxy and orthopraxy together. They are a model for us. May they who give their lives for the faith in many parts of Asia, be the model for the Church in the world and for young peop