(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has left Seoul on a Korean Airlines flight headed for Rome at the conclusion of his five day visit to the Asian country. The plane is due to land at Ciampino airport just before 6pm, local time, on Monday evening. The Pope’s departure from the Korean capital came after a concluding Mass in Seoul’s Catholic cathedral, during which he challenged Christians to work and pray for peace and reconciliation on the divided peninsula.
Our correspondent in Korea, Sean-Patrick Lovett, reports on the message the Pope left behind at the end of his first pastoral visit to an Asian nation.
This morning’s particular Mass intention at Myeong-dong Cathedral was for “Peace and Reconciliation in Korea”. Experiencing the stunning economic growth and material prosperity from close-up here in Seoul, it’s easy to forget that South Korea is still technically at war with the North. For the past 60 years the peninsula has been divided in half by a 4-kilometer long no-man’s land known as the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ – miles of guard towers, armed soldiers, and barbed-wire fencing for as far as the eye can see.
As a symbolic reminder of the pain and suffering caused by that division, a crown of thorns, made from a piece of that barbed-wire fencing, was laid at the feet of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima inside the Cathedral, with the inscription in Latin: “Ut unum sint” – “That they may be one”.
The Cross, in fact, was the central image at the heart of the Pope’s homily: “What appears, from a human perspective, to be impossible, impractical and even at times repugnant”, he said, “(Christ) makes possible and fruitful through the infinite power of his Cross”. In the presence of Korean President, Geun-hye Park, who attended the Mass, Pope Francis challenged his listeners “to reject a mindset shaped by suspicion, confrontation and competition, and instead to shape a culture formed by the teaching of the Gospel and the noblest traditional values of the Korean people”. Finally, the Pope prayed for “the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences…and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people”.
Before Mass, the Holy Father greeted a group of seven women of advanced age, seated in wheelchairs in front of the altar. This was the much anticipated encounter with the so-called “comfort women”, women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II and have been seeking an apology and compensation, without success, ever since. As always, Pope Francis listened to them intently while holding their aged hands.
Clearly the peace and reconciliation they seek is of a different, if no less valid, kind. But as the Pope reminded all of us in his homily: “The power of God bridges every division…and heals every wound”.