• ‘What would we die for?’

    Pope Francis comforts a disabled woman during his visit to a rehabilitation center for people with disabilities at Kkottongnae in Eumseong, South Korea where he beatified 124 Korean martyrs. AFP PHOTO

    Pope Francis comforts a disabled woman during his visit to a rehabilitation center for people with disabilities at Kkottongnae in Eumseong, South Korea where he beatified 124 Korean martyrs. AFP PHOTO

    SEOUL: Pope Francis beatified 124 early Korean martyrs Saturday at a mass in Seoul and challenged the massive crowd to ask what values would be worth dying for in an increasingly materialistic, globalized world.

    An estimated 800,000 people, most of them invited church groups from across South Korea, attended the open-air ceremony in hot, humid conditions at Gwanghwamun plaza—the city’s main ceremonial thoroughfare.

    The centerpiece of the Pope’s five-day visit, the beatification mass was the subject of a massive security operation, with bridges, roads and subway stations closed, and police snipers posted on the roofs of surrounding office buildings, which had their windows sealed.

    According to the Church, around 10,000 Koreans were martyred in the first 100 years after Catholicism was introduced to the peninsula in 1784.

    “They knew the cost of discipleship . . . and were willing to make great sacrifices,” Francis said in his sermon after the brief beatification ceremony, which gives the martyrs the title “blessed” and marks their first step towards sainthood.

    “They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for,” he said.

    Continuing the theme that has dominated his visit, the pope said the lessons to be learned from the martyrs were as important as ever in an era marked more by selfishness and greed than sacrifice.

    “Their example has much to say to us who live in societies where, alongside immense wealth, dire poverty is silently growing; where the cry of the poor is seldom heeded,” he said.

    Among the vast crowd, only 200,000 who pre-registered were allowed to pass through dozens of metal detectors placed along a 4.5-kilometer long security ring around the main plaza.

    Some arrived hours before dawn, and whiled away the time reading the Bible in small groups.

    South Korea has a fast-growing Catholic community that punches well above its weight in one of Christianity’s most muscular Asian strongholds.

    As the sun rose, Gwanghwamun boulevard was already crammed with people for a one-kilometer stretch north of City Hall.

    The papal stage, topped with a giant cross, stood at the top of the boulevard, backed by the giant tiled roof of the Joseon dynasty Gyeongbokgung Palace.

    In the 18th and 19th centuries, unrepentant Catholics were generally paraded from Gwanghwamun southwest to Seosomun Gate where they were publicly executed.

    Pope Francis began the day at a martyrs’ shrine at Seosomun and then made the journey of the condemned in reverse to Gwanghwamun, riding in an open-topped vehicle and waving to the ecstatic crowds on either side.

    “It was so moving. The Pope felt like such a caring, kind grandfather-figure,” Lee Young-Hee, a 58-year-old housewife, said.

    “My heart is swelling. The weather was hot but all I could feel was happiness,” she said.

    Comforts ferry disaster relatives
    Organizers had been concerned about the relatives of victims of April’s Sewol ferry disaster, who have been camped out in Gwanghwamun for weeks to push their campaign for a full independent inquiry into the tragedy, which claimed 300 lives—most of them schoolchildren.

    In the end, 600 family members were invited to attend the mass, effectively incorporating the protest into the event.

    As he passed by, the pope stopped and stepped down from his vehicle to greet the relatives, including Kim Young-Oh, whose daughter died in the disaster and who has been on a hunger strike for more than one month.

    “I am a Buddhist but I think the Pope can help us,” said Choi Keum-Bok, a construction worker who lost his son in the disaster.

    After the mass, the pope toured a hilltop community for the sick and disabled in Kkottongnae, around 80 kilometers south of Seoul.

    The sprawling facility has been held up as a model of the Church’s commitment to the vulnerable and marginalized, although critics say it ghettoises its residents.

    Set up in the 1970s by a Catholic priest, it has been tainted in recent years by allegations of embezzlement, though nothing has been proved.

    A staunch opponent of abortion, Pope Francis stopped and prayed in a memorial garden for aborted fetuses, dotted with hundreds of symbolic white crosses.



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    1. Rosauro Feliciano on

      Pope Francis could be a healer of hatred, of the haves and not-haves that produces hatreds; he transforms revulsion, abhorrence, hate, loathing, extreme dislike into LOVE. He has the living image of Christ Jesus in him.

    2. I admire this Pope and the Catholic Church.
      However, I cannot wuite put it and have to ask the question why The Phillipines for 450 years the only major Cathoilc country in Asia with almost 85,000,000 Catholics has only 2 Beatified and 1 Saint ?
      South Korea which has only recently became Catholic with less than 5M has 125 beatified?
      Is there kind of racism going around here?
      Filipino Catholics have died for their beliefs in more than 100 countried of the world from the US to the Middle East.
      And the Church in Rome could not find anyone worthy to beatify except for the two?
      I am just asking a question why?

      • Simple: Filipino faith is too shallow despite branded of being religious…

        That said reality is seen among us Filipinos and is being written in books, taught in academe via Sociology subject. The Vatican, through recorded history books, etc. is well aware of this reality.

    3. What would we die for? This a question hidden in the heart of man which may not be revealed until he is confronted with the choice. At the end the truth will be revealed.

    4. Blessed be God and His Angels and His Saints. Blessed be Pope Francis for his endearing love of his flock. The Lord God shall forever protect him in his untiring endeavor and sacrifice to inculcate to all the people of the world, the love of Jesus Christ when He give his life to redeem the sinners from eternal damnation. Alleluia to Pope Francis.