SHAFAQNA – Pope Francis called on the divided Koreas Monday to unite in the spirit of mutual forgiveness, saying they are “members of one family, one people.” “All Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people,” the pope said during a special Mass on peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. “Let us pray for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences,” the pope said during the Mass at Seoul’s Myeongdong Cathedral that wrapped up his first official visit to Asia.
The two Koreas have been divided for more than six decades following the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
Koreans should forgive each other “unreservedly” if they want peace and reconciliation on the divided peninsula, the pope said.
“Jesus asks us to believe that forgiveness is the door which leads to reconciliation. In telling us to forgive our brothers unreservedly, he is asking us to do something utterly radical, but he also gives us the grace to do it,” he said.
“The cross of Christ reveals the power of God to bridge every division, to heal every wound, and to re-establish the original bonds of brotherly love, This, then, is the message which I leave you as I conclude my visit to Korea. Trust in the power of Christ’s cross!”
The pope also appealed for “continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need,” in an apparent reference to North Koreans suffering from chronic food shortages.
The pope’s special Mass coincided with the start of an annual South Korea-U.S. joint military drill called Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which North Korea denounces as a rehearsal for an invasion of the communist North.
On hand at the special Mass were South Korean President Park Geun-hye and some 1,000 figures representing all walks of life in South Korea, including seven Korean women forced to serve as sex slaves by the Japanese military during World War II and five defectors from North Korea.
No North Korean Catholics joined the event because Pyongyang rejected an invitation from the South Korean Catholic Church, according to organizers.
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into working at front-line brothels for the Japanese army during the war. Only 54 South Korean victims remain alive.
Shortly before the Mass at the cathedral, the pontiff had time to briefly meet leaders of South Korea’s 12 leading religious orders.
The Mass was one of the major events of the papal visit that began on Thursday, along with Masses to beatify 124 Korean martyrs and close an Asian Catholic youth festival.
He led an open-air Mass to beatify Paul Yun Ji-chung and his 123 companions, before some 800,000 people who packed Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Saturday.
The martyrs were among the first-generation Korean Catholics killed in the 18th and 19th centuries by Korean rulers who feared the rapid spread of Catholicism would undermine the Confucianism-based ruling system.
During the visit, the first by a pope to South Korea in 25 years, the Holy Father fully showed his special concern for the vulnerable.
He met some 80 sick and disabled people living at Kkottdongnae, a rehabilitation center in Eumseong, 131 kilometers south of Seoul, blessing each of them while tenderly caressing children and kissing them on the forehead.
He occasionally stopped his parades throughout the country to bless babies and meet grieving families of those killed in April’s Sewol ferry disaster that claimed more than 300 lives. On Sunday, Francis baptized a father of a Sewol victim at the Vatican Embassy in Seoul, where the pope stayed during his Korean visit, upon an impromptu request from the man.
The pope also met Young Asian Catholics participating in the sixth Asian Youth Day in South Korea at the Solmoe shrine, the birthplace of the first Korean priest, Kim Dae-geon, in the western port city of Dangjin, on Friday and conducted the festival’s closing Mass at the Haemi shrine in Seosan, also on the west coast, on Sunday night.
The pontiff, in his homily, urged the participants to remain vigilant and channel their energy to selfless love, calling them the “future” of the Catholic Church and their own societies. Some 6,000 young Catholics from 23 Asian countries, including South Korea, took part in the six-day festival.
After the Myeongdong Cathedral Mass, South Korean Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung presented two symbolized icons of inter-Korean peace and reconciliation as gifts to the pope, according to organizers. One was a crown made with a part of a barbed wire fence in the heavily armed inter-Korean border, and the other was a statue of St. Mary that is the symbol of the Cathedral of Pyongyang Diocese. The archbishop of Seoul concurrently serves as the apostolic administrator of Pyongyang.
Pope Francis departed Seoul aboard a Korean Air charter plane Monday afternoon, wrapping up his five-day visit. (Yonhap)