Seoul (AsiaNews) - "Trust in the power of the Cross". This is Pope Francis' final message to the Korean peninsula delivered during his last public ceremony of this apostolic visit to the country: the great Mass for reconciliation and peace within the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul. "God's gift of reconciliation, unity and peace - Francis underscored- are inseparably linked to the grace of conversion, a change of heart which can alter the course of our lives and our history, as individuals and as a people".
People from several groups that represent the various open wounds on the peninsula were present in the pews: North Korean refugees now living in the South (hidden in the midst of the ordinary faithful not to be recognized); a group of former "comfort women"; some workers made redundant by Ssangyong Motor; residents of the 'peace village' of Gangjeong; those who fight for the preservation of Miryang and family members of the victims of the Yongsan disaster. Before arriving at the altar, the Pope stopped to speak to one of the former "sex slaves" victims of the Japanese occupation, Kim Goon-ja, who gives him a small badge in the shape of a butterfly, the symbol of the "Butterfly Fund" which financially supports these ageing women who had been taken by Japanese soldiers. Francis wore the pin throughout the entire Mass.
Opening his homily, the pontiff thanked God for the "many blessings he has given to this beloved country and, in a particular way, to the Church in Korea." Among these, a special place goes to the presence of so many young pilgrims who have gathered here from many parts of Asia, "Their love for Jesus and their enthusiasm for the spread of his Kingdom were an inspiration to all."
Today's Mass he immediately adds, "is first and foremost a prayer for reconciliation in this Korean family." But the unity and prosperity promised by God to the dispersed people - as heard in the first reading - are "inseparably tied to a command: the command to return to God and wholeheartedly obey his law (cf. Dt 30:2-3). God's gifts of reconciliation, unity and peace are inseparably linked to the grace of conversion, a change of heart which can alter the course of our lives and our history, as individuals and as a people".
The call to conversion is "naturally" pressing for Korean society, but "But God's urgent summons to conversion also challenges Christ's followers in Korea to examine the quality of their own contribution to the building of a truly just and humane society". "And it challenges you, as Christians and Koreans, firmly to reject a mindset shaped by suspicion, confrontation and competition, and instead to shape a culture formed by the teaching of the Gospel and the noblest traditional values of the Korean people".
This sums up Francis, "is the message that I leave at the end of my visit to Korea. Trust in the power of Christ's cross! Welcome its reconciling grace into your own hearts and share that grace with others! I ask you to bear convincing witness to Christ's message of forgiveness in your homes, in your communities and at every level of national life. Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people. You speak the same language. "
The Pope also had an appeal for the many Korean priests he met during the visit: ". I ask you, as ambassadors of Christ and ministers of his reconciling love (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20), to continue to build bridges of respect, trust and harmonious cooperation in your parishes, among yourselves, and with your bishops". "Dear brothers and sisters, God calls us to return to him and to hearken to his voice, and he promises to establish us on the land in even greater peace and prosperity than our ancestors knew. May Christ's followers in Korea prepare for the dawning of that new day, when this land of the morning calm will rejoice in God's richest blessings of harmony and peace! Amen".
During the prayers of the faithful, Francis also added an unscripted prayer for Card. Filoni "who was supposed to be with us but was sent by the Pope to Iraq. Pray for him and for all the minorities of that country who are suffering."
After the homily, the Archbishop of Seoul and Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang, Card. Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, gifted the Pope a "crown of thorns" made with the barbed wire of the Military Demarcation Line that separates the two Koreas at the 38th parallel. Francis will take the crown to Rome.
Before the Mass, the Pope met privately with some religious leaders in Korea: Protestants, Buddhists, Confucians, representatives of traditional Korean religion. They were introduced and presented to the pope by Msgr. Hyginus Kim Hee-jong (Archbishop of Kwangju and president of the Korean Bishops' Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue). The pontiff exchanged a few words and some gifts with each of them.
Soon after, the pope told the audience (in Spanish, with a translation in Korean): "Life is a journey, a journey that can not be walked alone. We need to walk with our brethren, in the presence of God. Journeying together as God asked Abraham. We are brothers and sisters, we walk together. May God bless you, please, I ask you to pray for me".