Pope Francis left for his pastoral visit to Korea Wednesday. This will be the first papal visit to the country in 25 years reports News.Va, the official Vatican news network. The visit was timed to coincide with the Church’s sixth Asian Youth Day gathering. Upon his arrival in Seoul the Pope will celebrate Holy Mass in private at the apostolic nunciature, address the president of the Republic and political authorities at the Blue House, and afterwards meet with the bishops of Korea at the offices of the Episcopal Conference.
Some of the highlights of this trip will be the open-air mass in Seoul’s World Cup stadium and a Mass for peace and reconciliation on the divided peninsula. There will also be the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs. Korea is steeped in the blood of martyrs who died for their faith during the waves of persecutions against Christianity which took place in the 18th and 19th centuries. Of the 124 Korean martyrs, 123 are lay people, the one exception being a catholic priest from China.
Francis said his message will be one of peace and Reconciliation. He expressed his hopes to spread the desire for a spiritual and political unification with North Korea. Before boarding the plane for his trip the Pope tweeted, “As I begin my trip, I ask you to join me in praying for Korea and for all of Asia.”
In the announcement to the Korean people of his visit, Francis said, “Arise! Shine!” referring to Isaiah 60:1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives. The Pope spoke of how the Lord is inviting them to receive his light, “to receive it in the heart so as to reflect it in a life full of faith, of hope and of love, full of the joy of the Gospel.”
The Pope chose to visit on the occasion of the sixth Asian Youth Day specifically to call the young people to the Lord. The youth are seen as the carriers of hope and energy for the future of the country. “Asian youth, wake up! The glory of the martyrs shines upon you,” he said. In his statement, Francis describes the light of the risen Christ shining as in a mirror in the witness of Paul Yun Ji-chung and his 123 companions, all martyrs of the faith.
Sean Patrick Lovett, Vatican Radio Correspondent travelling with the Pope to Korea, said authorities are expecting 4000 attendees from Korea and 2000 visitors from surrounding countries. In one of his radio broadcasts, Mr. Lovett describes his surreal visit to the Korean Demilitarized Zone as well as the immense national pride flowing through Korea in expectation and preparation for the Papal visit.
The Korean church has launched an official website for Pope Francis’ visit. It is available in English and Korean and contains information about the visit, events, prayer vigils and liturgical celebrations.