Pope sends messages in Korea

Pope Francis called for peace and unity on the divided Korean Peninsula and for both sides to avoid “fruitless” criticisms and shows of force, offering reconciliation at the start of a week long visit to South Korea that received a stark response from the regime in the north.

North Korea fired three projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast about an hour before Francis landed in the South Korean capital of Seoul, and two others a short while later. North Korea has conducted several of these tests this year. It has a long history of making sure it is not forgotten during high-profile events happening in the South.

Neither Francis nor President Park Geun-hye referred to the firings in their speeches at the presidential palace. The Vatican spokesman sought to downplay the incident altogether by saying that he wasn’t even sure the pope had been told.

In the first speech, Francis told Park, government officials, and other regional diplomats that peace required justice and that in turn requires forgiveness, cooperation and mutual respect. He said that diplomacy must be encouraged so that listening and dialogue would replace “mutual recriminations, fruitless criticisms and displays of force.”

“We cannot become discouraged in our pursuit of these goals which are for the good not only of the Korean people but of the entire region and the whole world,” he stated.

As he arrived at the airport in Seoul on the first papal visit in a quarter century, the pope shook hands with four relatives of victims of a South Korean ferry sinking that killed more than 300 and two descendants of Korean martyrs who died rather than renounce their faith. Francis on Saturday will beatify 124 Korean martyrs who founded the church on the peninsula in the 18th century, hoping to give the country’s vibrant and growing church new models for holiness and evangelization.

Some elderly Catholics wiped tears from faces, bowing deeply as they greeted the pope. A boy and girl in traditional Korean dress presented Francis with a bouquet of flowers. The pope then stepped into a small, black, locally made Kia car that turned heads, where many would consider it too humble for someone of the pope’s stature.

The main reason for the trip is for the pope participate in an Asian Catholic youth festival. He is to travel to Daejeon for his first encounter with the thousands of Catholics who have flocked to South Korea for the Asian version of the World Youth Day on Friday.

A spokesman for the organizing committee, Rev. Heo Young-yeop, declined to give a figure but stated that “many students wanted to come but were unable to come to Korea because of the complicated situation,” a reference to the relations between Beijing and the Holy See, which haven’t had any ties since 1951. “From the church’s position we are very sorry that this has happened.”

Park said that she hoped the pope’s presence would heal the Korean Peninsula’s “long wounds of division,” referring to the Korean War which has not technically ended.

“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,” he said referring to the need for the peninsula. “May all of us dedicate these days to peace: to praying for it and deepening our resolve to achieve it.”

The pope is also expected to meet with families of victims of the South Korean ferry sinking in April.

“A lot of bad things keep happening in our country right now, and people are going through tough times,” Ryun Sun-hee, a college student, had said. “So I hope this event can encourage people and bring more positive things to our country.”

Park credited the Catholics in South Korea with playing a big part in making the country what it has become: South Korea has risen from poverty, war and, dictatorship into Asia’s fourth biggest economy. She also called the Korean martyrs “pioneers who spread freedom and equality,” and she also said that their sacrifice helped develop Korean society.