Daejeon and Seoul prepare to welcome the Pope and youth of Asia
by Vincenzo Faccioli Pintozzi
More than 6 thousand young people from across the continent gather in Daejeon for the event, which starts tomorrow with Mass presided over by Msgr. Lazzaro You Heung-sik. They include a young refugee from North Korea, who tells AsiaNews: "I am not a Christian, but my grandmother once told me about the figure of the Pope, and since fleeing to the South I better understand his role. I know the good he does in the world and I want to be among those who will greet him on his visit".

Daejeon (AsiaNews) - Before being Koreans, Chinese or Asian "the young people who are coming to Daejeon are brothers and sisters and the children of God. Their nationality, level of education or political differences do not matter: together we must always and everywhere sow love, so that there is love between us. If there is love between us, then nothing is impossible. Without it, we can do nothing". These are the words of the bishop of the South Korean metropolis Msgr. Lazzaro You Heung-sik, speaking to AsiaNews ahead of the Asian Youth Day, which begins tomorrow with a solemn Mass presided over by him, waiting for the arrival of Pope Francis. An estimated 6 thousand young people will be present at the event, 2 thousand from other Asian countries.

These include a young North Korean refugee who has been living in the South for a few years, studying English and computers thanks to the programs set up by the Church to promote the refugees' integration in society: "I am not a Christian, at least not yet - he tells AsiaNews - but my grandmother, who died in North Korea, used to speak to me about the Pope.  Since coming here I have been able to better understand the importance of his role and all the good he does in the world.  I'm young and I'm Asian and I want to see him when he comes to Korea, I want to experience the Asian Youth Day with other young people like me".

The theme for tomorrow is "Come and See": Mass will be held in the sanctuary of Solmoe, the birthplace of the first Korean priest Andrea Kim Taegon, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II along with other 102 martyrs in 1984.  During the next few days the diocese has prepared a series of events on topics for discussion by young people and priests.  These will include testimonies, theatre performances, dance and music (including the highly anticipated "performance" by the Indonesian delegation). Martyrdom and "awakening" through the message of Christ are at the heart of the event, which will close Sunday, August 17 with an invitation to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel.

A local priest confides that the young people are "obviously cannot wait for the Mass on the Assumption, August 15th, which will be celebrated by the Pope. But they are also looking forward to meeting with their peers from across Asia and the opportunity to share with them the joy and the difficulty of being a Christian in today's world.

The capital is also preparing for the Pope's arrival: the streets of the downtown area are full of posters of Francis and the words "Seoul welcomes the Pope", inevitably next to the national flag. And the care with which the government is preparing for the arrival of this special guest confirms their intention to see everything run smoothly: security is tight around the Korean Bishops' Conference building, where the Pope will meet with bishops on August 14, the roar of helicopters overhead has become part of everyday sounds.

Police have also set up a permanent surveillance point on Gwanghwamun Square. 123 Korean martyrs will be beatified by Francis in the "heart" of Seoul, but in the same area a large group of people are demanding "truth and justice" from the government following the sinking of the Sewol ferry.  The tragic sinking last April 16 killed more than 300 and details of the accident are still unknown.

The permanent sit-in includes priests and nuns who are engaged in a "rosary chain"; Buddhist monks recite sutras; parents and relatives of the victims, who sometimes take up a microphone and talk about their drama. The government has asked the group to move on by tomorrow evening, to prepare the square; in turn they wrote a letter to the Pope asking to be allowed remain where they are.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Korean TV broadcast a video message from Francis to the Korean people: "Dear Brothers and Sisters, In a few days, with God's help, I will be among you, in Korea. I thank you in advance for your welcome and I invite you to pray with me, that this apostolic journey will bear good fruit for the Church and for Korean society".

Speaking facing the cameras, in a video that is being relayed in loop on public screens in Seoul, Francis said: "'Arise, shine!" (Is 60,1): with these words, which the Prophet addressed to Jerusalem, I address to you. It is the Lord who invites you to receive His light, to welcome it in your heart to reflect it in a life full of faith, hope and love, full of the joy of the Gospel. As you know, I am coming for the Sixth Asian Youth Day. I will bring the Lord's call to young people in particular: "Youth of Asia arise the glory of the martyrs shines upon you". The light of the Risen Christ shines like a mirror in the testimony of Paul Yun Ji-hung and 123 companions, all martyrs for the faith who I will proclaim blessed on August 16th in Seoul".

Young people, the Pope adds, "are bearers of hope and energy for the future, but they are also the victims of moral and spiritual crisis of our time. This is why I'd like to proclaim to them and to everyone the only name in which we can be saved: Jesus, the Lord. Dear Korean brothers and sisters, faith in Christ has taken deep root in your land and bore abundant fruit. The elders are the keepers of this legacy: without them, the young people would be deprived of memory. Encounter between the elderly and young guarantees the onward journey of a people. And the Church is a large family in which we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. In his name I come to you in joy to share with you the Gospel of love and hope. May the Lord bless you and the Virgin Mother protect you".

Bishop You echoes the Pope's words with his vision of the youth today: "The biggest challenge for our Church is the practical atheism of a society based on competition and success, which teaches you to think only about money and your career. So much so that many young people seem to have little time for faith. We must give new impetus to youth ministry and witness of charity, the best way to approach younger generations".