'What would we die for?’ Pope asks at service for Korean martyrs
Pope Francis beatified 124 early Korean martyrs on Saturday (Aug 16) at a mass in Seoul, South Korea, and challenged the massive crowd to ask what values they might be willing to die for in an increasingly materialistic, globalised world.
Hundreds of thousands of believers, most of them invited church groups from across South Korea attended the open-air ceremony, held in hot, humid conditions in Gwanghwamun plaza – the city’s main ceremonial thoroughfare.
The centrepiece of the pope’s five-day visit, the beatification mass was the subject of a massive security operation, with bridges, roads and subway stations closed, and police snipers posted on the roofs of overlooking office buildings, which had their windows sealed.
The most prominent among those beatified was an 18th century nobleman, Paul Yun Ji-Chung, who became Korea’s first Catholic martyr when he was executed in 1791 after clashing with Confucian officials.
According to the Church, around 10,000 Koreans were martyred in the first 100 years after Catholicism was introduced to the peninsula in 1784.
“They knew the cost of discipleship ... and were willing to make great sacrifices,” Francis said in his sermon after the brief beatification ceremony, which gives the martyrs the title “blessed” and marks their first step towards sainthood.
“They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for,” the pope said.
“Their example has much to say to us who live in societies where, alongside immense wealth, dire poverty is silently growing; where the cry of the poor is seldom heeded,” he said.
Up to one million people had been expected to converge on the venue for the mass, although only 200,000 who pre-registered were allowed to pass through dozens of metal detectors placed along a 4.5-km long security ring around the main plaza.
Pope Francis in a white car (L) passes a bronze statue of King Sejong (R), the 15th-century Korean King, as he arrives to attend a beatification mass. Photo: AFP
South Korea has a fast-growing Catholic community that punches well above its minority weight in one of Christianity’s most muscular Asian strongholds.
As the sun rose, Gwanghwamun boulevard was already crammed with spectators for a one-kilometre stretch north of City Hall.
The papal stage (below), topped with a giant cross, stood at the top of the boulevard, backed by the giant tiled roof of the Joseon dynasty Gyeongbokgung Palace.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, unrepentant Catholics were generally paraded from Gwanghwamun southwest to Seosomun Gate where they were publicly executed.
Pope Francis began the day at a martyrs’ shrine at Seosomun and then made the journey of the condemned in reverse to Gwanghwamun, riding in an open-topped vehicle and waving to the ecstatic crowds on either side.
“It was so moving. The Pope felt like such a caring, kind grandfather-figure,” Lee Young-Hee, a 58-year-old housewife, told AFP.
Pope Francis kisses a child as he greets Catholic faithful from his Popemobile upon arriving at Gwanghwamun square.
The pope’s visit is very much aimed at fuelling a new era of growth for Catholicism in Asia, where the Church is making some spectacular gains, but where Catholics still only account for 3.2 percent of the continent’s population. - AFP.