Pope Francis returned home from his five-day trip to South Korea on Monday after leaving on a note of plea, calling for clemency and reconnection on the country line that has long divided the North and the South, and for an increase in humanitarian aid to North Korea.
The pope arrived in Seoul, South Korea, for his first Asia visit on August 13, marking the first papal visitation there in 25 years. He purposed the trip to be a time wherein he could “go to Korea and pray for the reconciliation and peace,” according to Vatican spokesman Padre Federico Lombardi.
He tweeted on his Twitter page, “As I begin my trip, I ask all of you to join me in praying for Korea and for all of Asia.”
About an hour before the pope landed on Korean soil, North Korea shot five short-range projectiles into the sea just east of the Korean peninsula, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.
While there, Pope Francis beatified 124 Korean martyrs, celebrated the 6th annual Asian Catholic youth holiday called Asian Youth Day, and held a Holy Mass for Peace and Reconciliation, whose prayers intended to direct attention and divine change in North and South Korean relations.
On the trip, the pope not only met with South Korean president Park Geun-hye but also with family members of the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking incident, as well as women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during World War II.
This visitation not only marked the first of its kind in over two decades, but also acknowledged the global growth of Catholicism as it spread from Europe to Latin America, Africa and Asia.
During a Mass in Myeongdong Cathedral, the center of South Korean Catholicism, which President Park Geun-hye personally attended, Pope Francis asked the congregation to join him in praying for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, reconciling of differences, and being generous to those in need and recognizing that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family.
Soon thereafter, the South Korean government issued a statement requesting North Korea to accept its proposal for increased communication over the border, stating that if North Korea were to act responsibly, South Korea would be open to discussion of any nature, even including the possible ease of economic sanctions that the South put in place after one of its warships sank in 2010, an incident which the North is believed to have caused.
To end his stay there, the pope spoke from the same altar that many Korean Catholic leaders used as a platform to speak words on government policy appeals, tolerance and other important topics. He concluded with a vehement plea for forgiveness and reconciliation on North Korea’s part, quoting a Biblical scripture that refers to Peter asking Jesus how many times he must forgive a brother who sins against him, to which Jesus responds to forgive an endless number of times.
Referring to the passage, Pope Francis replied, “Unless we are prepared to do this, how can we honestly pray for peace and reconciliation? In telling us to forgive our brothers unreservedly, [Jesus] is asking us to do something utterly radical.”