06/25/2014, 00.00
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Reconciliation, hope and peace: Francis' "missionary challenges" in Korea

In his first visit to the Far East, the Pope will "show the path of hope and peace to a Korean peninsula still divided in two, and to the whole of Asia. The visit is a 'new beginning' for the local church and for his missionary work." AsiaNews talks to Fr Gerard Hammond, Maryknoll regional superior and expert on North Korea, and Fr Andrew Kim, superior general of the Missionary Society of Korea.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis "will arrive in Korea at the right time. Today is the anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, and in just over a month, the pontiff will be in the peninsula to show the path that leads to hope, peace and reconciliation. His visit will renew the missionary efforts of the Church in Korea and will help heal the struggles that still divide, not only the peninsula, but also South Korea," said Fr Gerard Hammond, regional superior of the Maryknoll missionaries, a North Korea expert who has visited the country twice a year for over 20 years.

"Today," Fr Hammond reminded AsiaNews, "is 25 June. In this country, no one can forget that 64 years ago, on this day, the Korean War began. The fact that the Pope will be here in just over a month, and spend the day of Korea's liberation (15 August), is very important. The pope is coming to bring a message of hope and peace to Korea and Asia. He is bringing new life to the Church in Korea and a new impulse for dialogue and reconciliation with the North. It is the right time."

South Koreans " suffered a great loss last April," the missionary said," when the Sewol ferry sank and many young people lost their lives." When he is here, "The pope will visit the families of the survivors and bring his comfort to these people, devastated by the loss of a child or a spouse. His love for those who suffer is wonderful, and can be the engine for a new path in the country and the continent."

Fr Andrew Kim, Superior General of the Missionary Society of Korea, agrees. "I expect that Pope Francis' visit to South Korea will be a sign of the reconciliation and peace of Christ for the Korean people who are struggling with conflict and division in their society," he told AsiaNews.

The "problems faced by Korean society are actually the problems the Korean Catholic Church is facing too. The Korean Church should firmly carry out its responsibility to be the salt and the light of contemporary society as well as understand the signs of the time by reflecting about its role and the mission given by Jesus."

However, the "missionary challenge" the pope has put on the Korean Church must extend to the Asian continent. "Saint John Paul II emphasised the role of the Korean Church for overseas mission, and as a response to his request, the Korean Church dispatched many missionaries to different parts of the world."

"The Korean Church burnt with the passion of mission after Pope John Paul II's ardent appeal. I hope that its passion will be further boosted and crystallised by Pope Francis' visit."

In this sense, "The goal of pope's visit is basically to stir enthusiasm in the faith among Korean people, which is the essential mission of the Church. I hope that the people of Korea will receive his message with an open heart and mind," Fr Kim said.

"I really hope," he added, "that many Korean Catholics will devote themselves to the activities of the overseas mission in the near future. I am certain that would be one of the positive outcomes of Pope Francis' visit to Korea."

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