Francis pleads for Korean unity and reconciliation

Pope Francis greets a girl as he arrives at a rehabilitation centre for people with disabilities in Kkottongnae, South Korea, Aug. 16.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Pope Francis greets a girl as he arrives at a rehabilitation centre for people with disabilities in Kkottongnae, South Korea, Aug. 16.

August 25, 2014
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

More than 60 years after the end of the Korean War, Pope Francis has urged the people of South Korea to seek the reunification of their divided country.

"Are there two Koreas?" Pope Francis asked participants in an Asian Youth Day gathering Aug. 15. "No, there is one, but it is divided; the family is divided."

To promote reunification, the pope said he had one piece of advice to offer.

"My advice is to pray, pray for our brothers in the North," he said, "that there might not be victors and defeated, only one family."

The emphasis on reconciliation of the two Koreas was a constant theme during Pope Francis' Aug. 14-18 visit to South Korea.

One his arrival in the country, the pope met with some 200 government officials, and noted the country "has long suffered because of a lack of peace." He praised "efforts being made in favour of reconciliation and stability."

"Korea's quest for peace is a cause close to our hearts, for it affects the stability of the entire area and indeed of our whole war-weary world," the pope said.

Speaking in English in public for the first time as pope, he told diplomats in the audience that the search for peace "demands that we not forget past injustices but overcome them through forgiveness, tolerance and cooperation."

Introducing the pope before his speech, President Park Geun-hye said the war "still casts a shadow" over Korea, "dividing not only the country but also many families."

Tensions with communist North Korea have risen markedly in recent years, especially over Pyongyang's development of nuclear arms. Less than an hour before the pope's plane landed in Seoul, North Korea fired three short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan in the latest of a large number of missile tests.

Pyongyang had already refused the Church's request to send a delegation of Catholics for the pope's visit.

In his meeting with the youth, Pope Francis said, "You are brothers who speak the same language. When you speak the same language in a family, there is also a human hope."

He then led the audience of some 6,000 people in silent prayer for Korean reunification.

JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS

To illustrate reconciliation, the pope cited the Old Testament story of Joseph, who forgave and fed his brothers even though they had sold him into slavery.

"When Joseph's brothers went into Egypt to buy food because they were hungry, they found a brother," he said. "Joseph noticed that they spoke the same language."

Young people pray as Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass of the Asian Youth Day in Haemi, South Korea, Aug. 17.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Young people pray as Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass of the Asian Youth Day in Haemi, South Korea, Aug. 17.

At his final event of his five-day visit, a Mass for peace and reconciliation at Seoul's Myongdong Cathedral, the pope said Jesus asked people "to believe that forgiveness is the door which leads to reconciliation."

"I ask you to bear convincing witness to Christ's message of forgiveness in your homes, in your communities and at every level of national life," he said.

PURER HEARTS

"Thus our prayers for peace and reconciliation will rise to God from ever more pure hearts and, by his gracious gift, obtain that precious good for which we all long," he said.

Reunification of the divided peninsula, as well as the harmony of South Korean society, depend on the practice of Gospel virtues, especially charity and forgiveness, he said.

God's promise to restore unity and prosperity to "a people dispersed by disaster and division . . . is inseparably tied to a command: the command to return to God and wholeheartedly obey his law," Pope Francis said.

'COMFORT WOMEN'

The Mass was closed to the public, but guests included women who were sold into sexual slavery during the Second World War.

Before the Mass, the pope met with the seven "comfort women," who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese before and during World War II.

The pope suggested the need for reconciliation lay not only between South Korea and the communist North, but within South Korea itself, the world's 13th-largest economy, where prosperity has brought increasing inequality.

"God's urgent summons to conversion also challenges Christ's followers in Korea to examine the quality of their own contribution to the building of a truly just and humane society," he said.