Seoul, South Korea, Aug 16, 2014 / 11:04 am
Pope Francis has received a warm welcome from the Korean people, many of whom praise him for his acts of compassion, stating that he has the power to provoke a change for the better.
"He is a symbol of hope that life is still beautiful. As I saw Pope Francis, I felt like Jesus came to save us," Jinhee Yu told CNA after participating in the pontiff's Aug. 16 Mass of beatification for 124 Korean martyrs.
"Statistically, there are lots of Catholics in the world but it's hard to find the genuine Catholic spirit in real life," she said. "The thing that's important is not a number but a real action. Because of this Pope Francis can be a role model, especially for Catholics."
A young Catholic from the South Korean city of Andong, Jinhee attended the mass of beatification along with several friends, among whom was Seoul-native Okhee Moon.
Speaking to CNA, Okhee also expressed her thrill at seeing Pope Francis, stating that "regardless of religion, Pope Francis is a guiding star to people around the world right now."
"Despite the fact that people have a different religions, our final destination is so similar, such as love, benevolence and peace," she said. "I'm so thankful to see him, and through this wonderful experience I can feel that my faith has become much stronger. I wish that everyone will feel the same way as I do."
The sentiments of Jinhee and Okhee reflect the reactions of many Koreans to the presence of Pope Francis to their country, which has already made a strong impression on the youth.
At an Aug. 15 gathering with youth of Asia at Solmoe Shrine, birthplace of the first Korean-born priest, St. Andrew Kim Taegon, who was martyred in the 1800s, thousands of youth from around Asia erupted in cheers as the pontiff diverted from his prepared remarks, encouraging them to never fear returning to Jesus.
The gathering was part of his Aug. 13 – 18 visit to South Korea, which coincides with the Sixth Asian Youth Day.
Tossing his typed-up papers aside, Pope Francis spoke off-the-cuff in English, explaining that "A beloved friend has told to me yesterday: 'you must address these young people by heart.'"
When he asked the youth with a smile "Are you tired? May I go on?" his questions were met with swarms of young people cheering wildly, ready to hear the words of their Pope, whether they could understand the Italian he then spoke or not.
Among the greatest things Pope Francis has been praised for is the compassion he has shown for the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster and their families. The ferry capsized earlier this year, killing more than 280 people, mostly high school students.
With a stated reason for the capsizing of the ferry being a sharp turn and too much cargo, the incident has had a massive impact on South Korea as a whole, and has left many overcome with grief.
Pope Francis met with victims' families during his Aug. 15 Mass celebrating the feast of Mary's Assumption into heaven, and baptized the father of one of the victims Aug. 16 at the Apostolic Nunciature of Seoul.
Mihae Nahm, South Korea native who recently moved back after growing up in Canada, spoke with CNA Aug. 16, recalling how Pope Francis stopped his popemobile while entering the square to celebrate the beatification Mass for 124 Korean martyrs in order to listen to the representative of the ferry victims' families who are calling for a greater government investigation into the incident.
"That was totally against protocol," she said, explaining that "Pope Francis really resonates and understands compassion, and puts himself into the shoes of these families who are really suffering."
"He's there to reach out to them, he's there to hear them, he wants to console them. That's why I think he got out of his popemobile, totally out of protocol, went to the gate, let the man talk and he listened."
Referring to the moment as "beautiful," Nahm stated that "That's why Pope Francis is different. He is the Pope who really wants to say I'm one of you. I'm leading you, but I'm one of you and I've been through what you've been through."
Chaeri Lee, a youth from Seoul, also spoke with CNA Aug. 16 regarding the actions of Pope Francis toward families of the ferry disaster victims, stating that "I'm so thankful for Pope Francis' sincere consolation for us. It's been a long time since a Pope has visited Korea and this is the right moment."
Joining the chorus of voices calling for peace in the country, Chaeri said that the "most significant thing we need is a peace."
"Nowadays, Koreans are suffering too much from political problems, social problems and so on. We want to solve these and make a better future," she noted, stating that "The fact that the Pope visited Korea itself is a huge bless for us and I'm so happy."
Also sharing Chaeri's sentiments is Kyumin Lee, a seminarian for the diocese of Seoul, who spoke to CNA Aug. 15 saying that "The Pope's visit is very meaningful because it's not only special to religious people, but to the whole country."
"He has a power to change things here, especially political problems such as corruption. We need to change it, and the Pope's message about peace will be a good inspiration."