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Park’s efforts result in papal visit

August 13, 2014
President Park Geun-hye, second from left, greets the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan during a meeting in 1969 at Cheong Wa Dae. Her parents Yuk Young-soo, left, and former President Park Chung-hee, third from right, look on with a smile. (Korea Times file)

President Park Geun-hye, second from left, greets the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan during a meeting in 1969 at Cheong Wa Dae. Her parents Yuk Young-soo, left, and former President Park Chung-hee, third from right, look on with a smile. (Korea Times file)

By Kang Seung-woo

Since her inauguration in February last year, President Park Geun-hye has worked hard to persuade Pope Francis to come to Korea, officially calling for the visit on five occasions, and sending four handwritten letters.

The 266th Roman Catholic pontiff arrived here today for a five-day visit, the first of its kind since 1989 when Pope John Paul II came to Korea.

Her efforts began in March last year.

Park sent a delegation headed by then-Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Yoo Jin-ryong to celebrate the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in Rome on March 19, delivering a handwritten letter from her congratulating the new Pope. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Korea-Vatican diplomatic relations.

In addition, the minister conveyed the wishes of President Park and the Korean public to invite the Pope, asking him to send a message of peace and love to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula and improve human rights in North Korea.

In response, while the North ramped up threats on the peninsula early this year, the Pope called for a diplomatic solution to tensions here in his first Easter Mass on March 31 2013, saying, “Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean Peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow.”

On Oct. 2, Park met Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples at the Vatican, at Cheong Wa Dae and expressed her eager expectation of the Pope’s visit to Korea, hoping he will promote social cohesion in the nation.

“I hope he will make a visit and help cure social discord in South Korea,” Park said.

In return, Filoni offered Park a rosary, a special present from the Pope.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, officiated the Dec. 19 Mass to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Korea, and Park wrote a letter of thanks for the Mass, once again asking for the papal visit.

When Andrew Yeom Soo-jung was given the red hat of a cardinal on Feb. 22 at the Catholic Church ― the nation’s third after the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan and Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk ― the president had Cho Hyun-jae, then the first vice minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, attend the ceremony and deliver to the Vatican her fourth handwritten letter regarding the papal visit.

On March 14, Park met with the nation’s Roman Catholic leaders, including Yeom, and discussed a possible visit by the Pope, saying it would contribute to peace on the peninsula.

Finally, her efforts paid off on June 18, when the Vatican officially announced that Pope Francis would visit Korea on Aug. 14 to attend a Catholic youth festival and preside over a ceremony to beatify 124 Korean catholic martyrs.

Park does not now express faith in any religion. She attended Sacred Heart Girls’ Middle and High Schools, owned by the Society of the Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic religious congregation; and graduated from Sogang University, established by the Society of Jesus, based on Catholic belief and educational philosophy.

While in middle school in 1965, she was baptized under the name Juliana.

In addition, she regularly visited her alma mater before the presidential election and shot an advertisement for the university.

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