08/06/2023, 14.48
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Seoul after Manila: WYD returns to Asia in 2027

by Giorgio Bernardelli

Pope Francis made the announcement at the end of the final Mass in Lisbon. For Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick of Seoul, this fulfils a wish he expressed to AsiaNews a few months ago, to a country that has fewer and fewer young people because of a very low fertility rate. The Korean Church has already started this journey, bringing more than a thousand young people to Portugal.

AsiaNews (Lisbon) - Thirty-two years after Manila, World Youth Day (WYD) will return to Asia. Seoul will in fact host the event in 2027, while Rome (Italy) will organise the jubilee of young people in August 2025.

Pope Francis made the announcement this morning in Lisbon at the end of the final Mass of the great gathering that saw a million young people from all over the world travel to Portugal. “From the western edge of Europe to Far East Asia,” said the pontiff, is “a beautiful sign of universality".

As a venue for WYD, Seoul was neither unexpected nor a certainty. Last October, AsiaNews had spoken to the recently appointed Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick of Seoul, OCD, on the sidelines of the General Conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC).

On that occasion, the young prelate had expressed the desire of the Korean Church to host the next WYD, hoping that it could be a "turning point" for the youth ministry in one of the many Asian countries facing demographic winter as a result of sub-replacement fertility levels.

South Korea now has the lowest fertility rate in the world, namely 0.78 children per woman in 2022, just 249,000 births in a nation of 51 million.

Bringing WYD to Seoul might send a signal to young people, not only in the Church, but also for Asian societies.

For young Catholics in Asia, WYD 2027 is already set to be a historic event. By choosing Seoul, Pope Francis showed once more his great interest in Asia, something that has characterised his entire pontificate.

The jamboree will be an extraordinary occasion for young people who live in minority situations in many Asian countries, sometimes experiencing directly persecution and war, to get together with fellow Catholics.

Their parents and grandparents already had the experience of the record-breaking WYD of 1995 in Manila; in Seoul, 21st century Asia will meet.

The Korean Church will bring the experience gained at the 2014 Asian Youth Day (AYD) in Daejeon, a meeting the FABC promoted to give many of the continent’s young people an experience they might not otherwise have had when the event is held in another, faraway continent.

Pope Francis travelled expressly to Daejeon for AYD, which was organised by Card Lazarus You Heung-sik, then bishop of Daejeon, currently the prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy at the Vatican.

In meeting young people, the pontiff entrusted them with the challenge of bringing about peace between the two Koreas, still divided by a highly militarised border along the 38th parallel, a legacy of the Korean War that ended 70 years ago, which was recently commemorated.

Such a matter is especially relevant in Asia today, torn as it by serious tensions and an arms race across the entire Pacific.

Hopefully, the year 2027, which will also mark the centennial of the start of civil war in China, will be remembered for this new and unprecedented sign of peace brought by young Catholics from all over the world to Asia.

"A WYD does not start and end in a matter of days; it is a journey. Its preparation is an excellent opportunity to bring young people together around a project. It gives them top billing, and encourages them to invite their peers to live this experience together,” Archbishop Chung explained.

Organising a WYD “sets in motion a process” and “even when it is over, it is still nice to share with everyone what was experienced. It provides a missionary opportunity to share the values of the Gospel in our society.”

The Korean Church, this process has already begun. The group of young people who went up with the flag to Pope Francis in Lisbon immediately after the announcement are but a small sample of more than a thousand young Koreans who travelled to Portugal, 150 from the Archdiocese of Seoul alone.

Never had South Korea sent so many young people to a WYD. This is an important sign at a time when the average age of worshippers going to church in Seoul is rising.

“I am very grateful to Pope Francis for choosing us as the next host city. I will be very happy and honoured to be able to meet so many young people from all over the world in Seoul,” Archbishop Chung said in Lisbon, in a statement released by the archdiocese.

"WYD is not only an event for the Catholic Church, but a venue where people of good will come together. We will work closely with the national and local government to make it an event for the good of all humanity."

Archbishop Emeritus Card Andrew Yeom Soo-jung also travelled to Lisbon to be with young people for the  announcement of the WYD in Korea.

"I am grateful to the Lord for this great grace. I hope that the prayers of all the young people of the world will be answered through WYD in Seoul,” he said. “Above all, I hope that it will be a festival of love and joy in which young people pray united for 'peace on earth' and no wars.”




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