Seoul, South Korea, Aug 17, 2014 / 21:51 pm
Calls for peace and reconciliation dominated Pope Francis' historic apostolic visit to South Korea, which concluded as the Pope boarded a plane back to Rome Aug. 18.
"Jesus asks us to believe that forgiveness is the door which leads to reconciliation," the Pope said at the final Mass, which he described as being "first and foremost a prayer for reconciliation in this Korean family."
"God's gifts of reconciliation, unity and peace are inseparably linked to the grace of conversion, a change of heart which can alter the course of our lives and our history, as individuals and as a people."
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis met briefly with about a dozen religious leaders representing various faiths, including Buddhism, Confucianism and native Korean religions, as well as the Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox churches.
The Aug. 13-18 apostolic visit coincided with the 6th Asian Youth Day, which drew tens of thousands of young people from across the continent.
Pope Francis addressed the youth on several occasions, urging them to "wake up" and respond to God's call. He reminded the young people of the continent that "you are not only a part of the future of the Church; you are also a necessary and beloved part of the Church's present!"
"Dear young friends, in this generation the Lord is counting on you!" he said during a discussion with the youth. "Are you ready to say 'yes' to him? Are you ready?"
After listening to several young people present the joys and challenges of living as Catholics in different Asian countries, the Pope began to deliver a prepared address, but set aside his written remarks part-way through, saying that he wanted to speak to those present spontaneously, from the heart.
The off-the-cuff comments that followed were among the Pope's strongest words on the relationship between North and South Korea.
"There is only one Korea, but this family is divided," he said, pointing to the parable of the Prodigal Son as an example of the need for humble conversion, repentance and forgiveness in order to achieve reconciliation.
During his apostolic visit, Pope Francis also beatified Korean martyrs Paul Yun Ji-chung and 123 companions, saying that "their witness to the power of God's love continues to bear fruit today in Korea."
The Pope observed that today, there is a temptation "to compromise our faith, to water down the radical demands of the Gospel and to conform to the spirit of this age."
"Yet the martyrs call out to us to put Christ first and to see all else in this world in relation to him and his eternal Kingdom. They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for," he said, noting that most of the martyrs were laity killed during a time of intense persecution.
Also during the trip, Pope Francis prayed at a cemetery for aborted children and visited a rehabilitation center for individuals with disabilities. He greeted a group of women were forced into sexual slavery during World War II by the Japanese military.
He also met with government officials, charging them to embrace hope and working for peace and justice in order to benefit the common good.
Meeting with a group of lay leaders, the Holy Father emphasized the family as the school of virtue and basic unit of society. Speaking to religious communities, he stressed that only the authentic joy of the Gospel, lived out in community life and public witness, will attract others to Christ.
The pontiff baptized a 62-year-old man whose son was among the victims in the Sewol Ferry tragedy earlier this year; the man took the baptismal name "Francis."
On two occasions during the trip, the Pope met with local bishops, urging them to be guardians of hope, protecting the legacy of the faith handed on by the martyrs of the nation.
Warning against relativism and an over-simplified reduction of the faith, he encouraged them to keep alive "the flame of holiness, fraternal charity and missionary zeal within the Church's communion."
He stressed the importance of strong Christian identity, saying, "We cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity."