Daejeon (AsiaNews) - "May the Christians of this nation be a generous force for spiritual renewal at every level of society. May they combat the allure of a materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values and the spirit of unbridled competition, which generates selfishness and strife. May they also reject inhumane economic models which create new forms of poverty and marginalize workers, and the culture of death which devalues the image of God, the God of life, and violates the dignity of every man, woman and child," Pope Francis said in his homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption, in Daejeon, on the second leg of his apostolic visit to the Asian country.
The pontiff's invitation was greeted by loud applause from about 60,000 people gathered in the Daejeon World Cup Stadium. Although this is Asian Youth Day, marking the pope's presence on the peninsula, the stands are filled with people from all walks of life. Next to the endless grey of Korean nuns, one can see young people from Korea and all over the continent, the elderly, security agents and a representation of the whole Church in Asia at the altar.
As expected, Francis' trip to Korea has slowly transformed itself into a papal embrace of the whole continent. Along with him and the Vatican delegation, there are cardinals Yeom (Seoul), Tagle (Manila), Gracias (Mumbai), Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai (Secretary of Propaganda Fide, Hong Kong), and almost all the bishops of South Korea. Co-celebrants include priests from many nations, including Vietnam, Pakistan and Indonesia. Two young seminarians from mainland China who are near the altar were able to talk with the pope after the Mass.
Francis arrived at the stadium in his traditional popemobile, which drove around the arena. Afterwards, he greeted and blessed all those who did not find a place in the stadium (about 3,000 people) and then entered the facility on a different, open vehicle, accompanied by Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, the bishop of Daejeon.
As the car was welcomed by a standing crowd shouting "Viva il Papa", it drove around the stadium. When it stopped in front of the door leading to the sacristy, two young Spanish members of the Opus Dei who have been in Seoul for the past two years drew his attention calling out loudly at him in Spanish. One of them had the ever-present white skullcap that the Pope repeatedly exchanges with the faithful in St Peter's Square.
Upon hearing his mother tongue, the pope beckoned to one of the two - Juan Pablo Postigo, 20 - who approached the pontiff with a skullcap and (as he told AsiaNews) asked him to pray for North Korea. "Francis told me that the does so every day, and asked me to do it too and to pray for him. After he blessed me and gave me the skullcap. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. "
Right after, in front of the sacristy, the pope met ten representatives of the families of the victims of the Sewol naval disaster. Three of them are non-Catholics. The tragedy claimed the lives of more than 300 people and remains an open wound in the country.
Lee Ho-jin (father of Lee Seung-hyeon, who died in the sinking of the ferry) carried the cross during the last pilgrimage in honour of the victims. Speaking to AsiaNews, Lee explained that "the Church has brought me a lot of comfort at this time of tragedy for all of us. I wanted to express my thanks as best I could."
The Pope began his homily reflecting on the figure of Mary. "In today's second reading, we heard Saint Paul tell us that Christ is the new Adam, whose obedience to the Father's will has overturned the reign of sin and bondage and inaugurated the reign of life and freedom."
Indeed, "True freedom," the pontiff noted, "is found in our loving embrace of the Father's will. From Mary, full of grace, we learn that Christian freedom is more than liberation from sin. It is freedom for a new, spiritual way of seeing earthly realities. It is the freedom to love God and our brothers and sisters with a pure heart, and to live a life of joyful hope for the coming of Christ's Kingdom."
Through the Virgin's intercession, the pope added, "May the Christians of this nation be a generous force for spiritual renewal at every level of society. May they combat the allure of a materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values and the spirit of unbridled competition, which generates selfishness and strife. May they also reject inhumane economic models which create new forms of poverty and marginalize workers, and the culture of death which devalues the image of God, the God of life, and violates the dignity of every man, woman and child.
The hope held out by the Gospel, Francis said, "is the antidote to the spirit of despair that seems to grow like a cancer in societies which are outwardly affluent, yet often experience inner sadness and emptiness. Upon how many of our young has this despair taken its toll! May they, the young who surround us in these days with their joy and confidence, never be robbed of their hope!
Right after the Angelus prayer, the pope spoke again about the Sewol tragedy. "We especially entrust to her all who lost their lives in the sinking of the Sewol ferry, as well as those who continue to be affected by this great national disaster. May the Lord welcome the dead into his peace, console those who mourn, and continue to sustain those who so generously came to the aid of their brothers and sisters. May this tragic event which has brought all Koreans together in grief confirm their commitment to work together in solidarity for the common good."
"Finally," he concluded, "on this day when Korea celebrates its liberation, we ask Our Lady to watch over this noble nation and its citizens. And we commend to her care all the young people who have joined us from throughout Asia. May they be joyful heralds of the dawn of a world of peace in accordance with God's gracious plan!"