The rich history of martyrdom in South Korea and the thousands of young people slated to gather this week for Pope Francis shows the beauty and power of the faith, says a local bishop.
Bishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik of Daejeon will host Pope Francis in his diocese Aug. 15, when the pontiff takes part in the Sixth Asian Youth Day by celebrating Mass in the World Cup Stadium.
The bishop told CNA that around six thousand young people are anticipated to join Pope Francis for the event, and “will come from 22 different countries, and among those Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia.”
“Asian Youth Day is so important,” he said in an Aug. 11 interview. “This meeting shows the future of the Church.”
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.
“Korean people, both believers and non believers, are praying that Francis may bring the Lord's peace in the whole land of Korea,” Bishop You said.
Despite the “diplomatic tension between” North and South Korea, the news of Pope Francis' visit has “already opened our administration's heart, who had invited young North Korean people to take part” in the youth event.
North Korean authorities have declined the South Korean invitation to take part at least at the concluding Mass the Pope is scheduled to celebrate Aug. 18 at Myeongdong Cathedral, seat of the Archdiocese of Seoul – but there is no news about North Korean young people taking part to the Asian Youth Day.
“We are still waiting for their response, and we will look forward to it until the very end, with our heart open,” Bishop You said.
He then reflected that Pope Francis' visit may restore the spirit of Korean martyrs which he says is represented by “the joy of the Gospel.”
The “Korean Church has developed with no missionaries, with no priests…it started with people in search of truth, which they found with great joy in the Word of God,” he said.
Bishop You underscored that the “Korean Church shows that the Word of God is alive and powerful also in Asia.”
He explained that the sanctuary of Haemi, where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass with young people, “is the place where many martyrs have died because of the joy of the Gospel and of the truth of the word of God.”
“Pope Francis' visit will transform the word of God in lived life, and so, like our martyrs, we will be able to learn that Christian life means choosing the Word of God for anyone’s life,” the bishop added.
This message is even more important today, he noted, given that South Korea “is now a wealthy country, and because of this we have lost the good teachings of our ancestors, such as sharing, loving the neighbors, compassion for poor and sick people.”
“We are facing the temptation of materialism that suffocates the good spiritual values,” he said.