Seoul (AsiaNews) - What should have been one of the most formal appointments of Pope Francis' apostolic visit to Korea has been transformed into his first real immersion among a huge crowd since his arrival. The meeting with the Korean bishops at the headquarters of the Episcopal Conference (Cbck) drew around 1,000 people to the street outside the building who waited for the pope, armed with placards and banners of welcome. Despite a suffocating security, the Pope immediately responded to the warm welcome of the faithful getting out of his car and going in person to greet those closet to the barriers.
The road had been blocked since the early hours of the morning: both the sidewalk and the main road were under tight security throughout the afternoon, patrolled by soldiers and policemen, in uniform and in plain clothes. Special squads with explosive detecting dogs were also present and radars were used to check cars. Even the home of the Maryknoll missionaries, adjacent to CBCK, was transformed for the day into a base camp for the military. Upon the Pope's arrival, however, a huge crowd of faithful (given the limited size of the road) was there ready to welcome him. The banners read "Papa Francesco, welcome among us" and hundreds of small signs that read "Forza Papa" [one of the Pope's catchphrases, forza, meaning, Come on!].
The Papal entourage that accompanied the Pope included members of the CBCK Standing Committee: It's President Msgr. Peter Kang U-il, the Archbishop of Seoul Card. Nicholas Yeom Soo-jung (together with the arachbishop emeritus Card. Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk), the Bishop of Daejeon Msgr. Lazzaro You Heung-sik and some others. Also present were the Vatican Secretary of State, Card. Piero Parolin, Fr. Federico Lombardi and Msgr.Marini.
Before meeting with the bishops, Francis wanted to greet the 14 members of the Korean province of the Maryknoll Missionaries - secular and religious - in the chapel of the Bishops' Conference of the fourth floor. Meeting with the Provincial Superior, Fr. Gerard Hammond, Francis recalled the commitment of these priests and the staff of Fr. Hammond in the fight against tuberculosis in North Korea under the Kim regime.
The Pope then went up to the seventh floor, where, after the welcome speech delivered by Msgr. Kang, he said: "It is a blessing for me to be here and to witness at first hand the vibrant life of the Church in Korea. As pastors, you are responsible for guarding the Lord's flock. You are guardians of the wondrous works which he accomplishes in his people. Guarding is one of the tasks specifically entrusted to the bishop: looking after God's people. Today I would like to reflect with you as a brother bishop on two central aspects of the task of guarding God's people in this country: to be guardians of memory and guardians of hope".
Reflecting on memory, the Pope emphasized once again the upcoming beatification of the 124 Korean martyrs (which will take place August 16): " The beatification of Paul Yun Ji-chung and his companions is an occasion for us to thank the Lord, who from the seeds sown by the martyrs has brought forth an abundant harvest of grace in this land. You are the children of the martyrs, heirs to their heroic witness of faith in Christ. You are also heirs to an impressive tradition which began, and largely grew, through the fidelity, perseverance and work of generations of lay persons. It is significant that the history of the Church in Korea began with a direct encounter with the word of God. It was the intrinsic beauty and integrity of the Christian message - the Gospel and its summons to conversion, interior renewal and a life of charity - that spoke to Yi Byeok and the noble elders of the first generation; and it is to that message, in its purity, that the Church in Korea looks, as if in a mirror, to find her truest self".
The Church in Korea, he added immediately, "the Church in Korea is esteemed for its role in the spiritual and cultural life of the nation and its strong missionary impulse. From being a land of mission, yours has now become a land of missionaries; and the universal Church continues to benefit from the many priests and religious who have sent into the world".
Regarding the second point, Francis pointed out that guarding memory "means more than remembering and treasuring the graces of the past; it also means drawing from them the spiritual resources to confront with vision and determination the hopes, the promise and the challenges of the future. As you yourselves have noted, the life and mission of the Church in Korea are not ultimately measured in external, quantitative and institutional terms; rather, they must be judged in the clear light of the Gospel and its call to conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. To be guardians of memory means realizing that while the growth is from God (cf. 1 Cor 3:6), it is also the fruit of quiet and persevering labor, past and present. Our memory of the martyrs and past generations of Christians must be one that is realistic, not idealized or triumphalistic". Looking to the past without hearing God's call to conversion in the present will not help us move forward; instead, it will only hold us back and even halt our spiritual progress".
Another important point, which is featuring more and more during Francis' pontificate, is the missionary nature of the Church. A challenge that Korea must accept: " If we accept the challenge of being a missionary Church, a Church which constantly goes forth to the world and, especially, to the peripheries of contemporary society, we will need to foster that "spiritual taste" which enables us to embrace and identify with each member of Christ's body (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). Here particular care and concern needs to be shown for the children and the elderly in our communities. How can we be guardians of hope if we neglect the memory, the wisdom and the experience of the elderly, and the aspirations of our young? In this regard, I would ask you to be concerned in a special way for the education of children, supporting the indispensable mission not only of the universities, but also Catholic schools at every level, beginning with elementary schools, where young minds and hearts are shaped in love for the Lord and his Church, in the good, the true and the beautiful, and where children learn to be good Christians and upright citizens".
Being guardians of hope, he added, "hope also entails ensuring that the prophetic witness of the Church in Korea remains evident in its concern for the poor and in its programs of outreach, particularly to refugees and migrants and those living on the margins of society. This concern should be seen not only in concrete charitable initiatives, which are so necessary, but also in the ongoing work of social, occupational and educational promotion. We can risk reducing our work with those in need to its institutional dimension alone, while overlooking each individual's need to grow as a person and to express in a worthy manner his or her own personality, creativity and culture.
And so instead of " Solidarity with the poor has to be seen as an essential element of the Christian life; through preaching and catechesis grounded in the rich patrimony of the Church's social teaching, it must penetrate the hearts and minds of the faithful and be reflected in every aspect of ecclesial life. The apostolic ideal of "a Church of and for the poor" found eloquent expression in the first Christian communities of your nation. I pray that this ideal will continue to shape the pilgrim path of the Church in Korea as she looks to the future. I am convinced that if the face of the Church is first and foremost a face of love, more and more young people will be drawn to the heart of Jesus ever aflame with divine love in the communion of his mystical body".
However, the Pope also wanted to address a few points which- in the Korean Church - are acutely felt: " Dear brothers, a prophetic witness to the Gospel presents particular challenges to the Church in Korea, since she carries out her life and ministry amid a prosperous, yet increasingly secularized and materialistic society. In such circumstances it is tempting for pastoral ministers to adopt not only effective models of management, planning and organization drawn from the business world, but also a lifestyle and mentality guided more by worldly criteria of success, and indeed power, than by the criteria which Jesus sets out in the Gospel. Woe to us if the cross is emptied of its power to judge the wisdom of this world (cf. 1 Cor 1:17)! I urge you and your brother priests to reject this temptation in all its forms. May we be saved from that spiritual and pastoral worldliness which stifles the Spirit, replaces conversion by complacency, and, in the process, dissipates all missionary fervor (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 93-97)!"