South Koreans are full of joyful anticipation at the impending arrival of Pope Francis, according to the director of the nation's new branch of Aid to the Church in Need.
The Pope's flight from Rome is set to land at Seoul Air Base at 10:30 am local time on Aug. 14 – 9:30 pm on Aug. 13 in Washington, D.C.
“The whole country is looking forward to the visit of the Holy Father and is thoroughly well prepared for it,” Johannes Klausa, head of the newly-opened South Korean office of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, said in a recent interview.
“Needless to say, Korea is preparing not only with pop songs and plastic toys, but also with prayer groups, Scripture readings and with a special prayer for the papal visit. The priests are urging their parishioners to read up on the life and encyclicals of the Holy Father,” Klausa told Andre Steifenhofer, a writer with German branch of the charity, which is under the guidance of the Holy See.
“In the secular bookstores too the tables are sagging beneath all the biographies and other books about Pope Francis.”
Klausa's new office – Aid to the Church in Need's first in Asia – expands the ability of the Catholic charity as it provides assistance to suffering and persecuted Catholics in more than 140 nations.
Pope Francis will be visiting South Korea Aug. 14-18, during which time he will participate in Asian Youth Day and will beatify 124 Korean martyrs of the 19th century.
The theme of the visit is “Arise, shine; for your light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” The Pope hopes to directly exhort each of the faithful in South Korea to live by this message.
Klausa noted there have been “security issues” for the committee preparing for the trip, noting that Pope Francis “has officially requested that during his visit he is not driven through the city in a bullet-proof limousine, but in an ordinary Korean small car.”
He said that the “Catholic Church in South Korea has a very high reputation. It is seen as tolerant and modest and enjoys moral authority and integrity in the public perception.”
Klausa believes Catholics have a high reputation locally because the Church has always been on the “right side of history,” remaining faithful to the poor and oppressed during the darker times in Korea, “against the Japanese occupiers and later also against home-grown dictators, and stood up for democracy and human rights.”
The Church in Korea “plays a major part in the social system today, has established universities and runs many social institutions such as hospitals, children’s and old people’s homes, and cares for the forgotten and the outcasts of society,” reflected Klausa.
While admittance to different social circles is difficult in South Korea, he said – adding that “belonging to a particular social group is of central importance in Korea – much more important than in Western culture … Church communities are one of the few exceptions.”
Klausa said the Church offers a welcoming home to those who seek community: religious worship is always reverent, emotional, and well-attended.
“A great many Koreans only find their way to the faith in adulthood in fact. Of course there are also families that have been Catholic for generations, but these are a minority today. In the Church community people are welcomed with open arms, and as a result the parishes are also something of a gathering place for those seeking friendship, of all ages.”
Because South Korea “exists in the glare of world public attention,” and is “one of the major conflict flashpoints on the world political scene,” Klausa believes that the Pope’s visit “may bring about new initiatives for the currently frozen relationship between the two Koreas.”
“Society is torn apart between tradition and modernity, poor and rich, progressive and conservative forces,” Klausa commented, noting that rapid development within the nation has caused some individual areas to be neglected.
South Korea remains the economic powerhouse of the region, establishing itself as an Asian heavyweight, said Klausa. Because of this, Korean humanity has suffered since many people received riches before they learned how to handle them.
“Among the important intentions for your prayers for Korea, apart from the constant need to pray for peace, reconciliation and reunification, one might include some less popular, and in some cases even taboo, social and political concerns,” stated Klausa.
For example, Klausa urged prayers “for a 'deceleration' and a lessening of the intolerable pressure that is exerted from top to bottom within our bone-hard society,” asking the faithful from around the world to unite in prayer for South Korea.