The head of the Roman Catholic church will visit South Korea later this month. It will be the first visit of a pope to an Asian country in almost 20 years, and the first visit of a pope to South Korea in 25 years.
Pope Francis will be in South Korea from August 14thto August 18th. He will meet with South Korean president Park Geun-hye. He will also spend time with young people during Asian Youth Day events. The events are to be held about 100 kilometers south of the capital Seoul.
Pope Francis will celebrate a Catholic religious ceremony called a Mass, in Seoul. About one million people are expected to attend.
Kim Hyunjun is director of culture and sports at South Korea’s Office of Government Policy Coordination. He says the pope has often spoken of the need for better relations between North and South Korea.
Church officials in Seoul say a Catholic group from North Korea did not accept an invitation to attend the Mass. Media reports say the North Korean Catholic Association decided not to go because of planned joint military operations between the United States and South Korea. They are set to begin at the end of the pope’s planned visit.
Pope Francis will meet with family members and victims of the Sewol ferry boat accident. The boat overturned in waters along the southwestern coast of South Korea in April. More than 300 people died. Most of them were high school students on a class trip. Their families want the government to pass a law that would require an independent investigation into the ferry incident.
Korea is believed to have one of the fastest-growing Catholic populations in Asia. Korean officials say there are more than five million Catholics in the country.
Foreign missionaries spread the Catholic faith in many countries. But that did not happen in South Korea. Members of Korea’s royal family founded the Catholic Church. They learned about the faith through Catholic writings that were translated into Chinese.
Luis Antonio Tagle is a Cardinal -- a high-ranking Catholic Church leader -- in the Philippines. He says the pope likes Asia. The Cardinal says Pope Francis told him he wanted to share in the suffering of those who are mistreated because of their beliefs.
“I remember the Holy Father saying how much he admired, admired those who suffer on account of their faith. He said, in fact, ‘If I meet any one of them I will kiss their hands or kiss their feet.’ And he was talking about Asia.”
Cardinal Tagle told VOA that Asia is very important for the Catholic Church. The World Christian Database estimated that 14 million Catholics lived in the Asia-Pacific area in 1910. Today, that number has grown to 121 million.
Pope Francis will continue visiting countries in the area. In January, 2015 he will travel to Bangladesh and the Philippines.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Words in the News
ceremony– n. an act or series of acts done in a special way established by tradition
joint– adj. shared by two or more
missionary - n. a person who is sent to a foreign country to do religious work (such as to convince people to join a religion or to help people who are sick, poor, etc.)
admire - v. to feel respect or approval for (someone or something)
independent- adj. not influenced by or controlled by another or others; free; separate