On the first day of his historic papal visit to South Korea, Pope Francis urged local bishops to not only remember their rich history of martyrdom but look to the future with hope and missionary zeal.
“As pastors, you are responsible for guarding the Lord’s flock. You are guardians of the wondrous works which he accomplishes in his people,” the Pope said in his Aug. 14 address to the country's Catholic Church leaders.
“Guarding is one of the tasks specifically entrusted to the bishop: looking after God's people,” he noted in his prepared remarks, adding that Korea's bishops are charged in particular with being “guardians of memory and guardians of hope.”
Announced by the Vatican in March, the Pope's Aug. 13-18 trip follows an invitation from the president of the Korean Republic, Park Geun-hye, and the bishops of Korea.
During his time, the Pope will travel from the capital city of Seoul to Daejon, where he will celebrate the Sixth Asian Youth Day with thousands of young people expected to attend. He will also visit the rehabilitation center for disabled persons in Kkottongnae, as well as a shrine in Haemi for a closing Mass with Asian youth.
Speaking to the Korean bishops' conference on Thursday, the Pope encouraged them to live their guardianship of memory by recognizing how the “seeds sown by the martyrs” have “brought forth an abundant harvest of grace in this land.”
“You are the children of the martyrs, heirs to their heroic witness of faith in Christ,” he emphasized. “You are also heirs to an impressive tradition which began, and largely grew, through the fidelity, perseverance and work of generations of lay persons.”
In this vein, the “great legacy handed down from your forefathers” can be seen today in active parishes and ecclesial movements, effective catechesis and outreach to youth, as well as Catholic schools and seminaries, he said.
The Pope strayed from his prepared comments on several occasions, stressing that bishops should not be distant from priests, but should be available and attentive to their needs. He also warned them to beware of the temptations that accompany prosperity.
In his prepared remarks, he reflected on how the Church in Korea has an essential place in the spiritual and cultural life of the country, lauding its “strong missionary impulse.”
“From being a land of mission, yours has now become a land of missionaries; and the universal Church continues to benefit from the many priests and religious whom you have sent forth.”
Pope Francis added, however, that being guardians of memory means more than just remembering and honoring the past, but drawing from these the riches the strength and wisdom to face the future.
“In addition to being guardians of memory, dear brothers, you are also called to be guardians of hope,” he stressed, “the hope held out by the Gospel of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ, the hope which inspired the martyrs.”
This hope is guarded, he explained, by “keeping alive the flame of holiness, fraternal charity and missionary zeal within the Church's communion.”
A key part of this effort requires bishops to be close to their priests and to accompany them in their daily lives, affirm children and elderly in their societal importance, support education and remain steadfast in concern for the poor – particularly refugees and migrants.
“Solidarity with the poor has to be seen as an essential element of the Christian life; through preaching and catechesis grounded in the rich patrimony of the Church’s social teaching, it must penetrate the hearts and minds of the faithful and be reflected in every aspect of ecclesial life.”
Pope Francis also touched on the challenges faced by modern Koreans, especially what he called “a prosperous, yet increasingly secularized and materialistic society.”
He warned of the temptation for bishops to not only draw “from the business world” in adopting plans to address the problem but also a lifestyle and mentality driven by power and success as opposed to the Gospel.
“Woe to us if the cross is emptied of its power to judge the wisdom of this world! I urge you and your brother priests to reject this temptation in all its forms,” the Pope told the bishops.
“May we be saved from that spiritual and pastoral worldliness which stifles the Spirit, replaces conversion by complacency, and, in the process, dissipates all missionary fervor!”
Concluding his remarks, Pope Francis said that “with these reflections on your role as guardians of memory and of hope, I want to encourage you in your efforts to build up the faithful in Korea in unity, holiness and zeal.”
“Memory and hope inspire us and guide us toward the future. I remember all of you in my prayers and I urge you constantly to trust in the power of God's grace.”