Pope Francis to visit Korea Aug. 14

March 10, 2014
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

By Baek Byung-yeul

Pope Francis will visit Korea for five days starting Aug. 14 to attend a youth event in Daejeon, the Vatican confirmed Monday.

It will mark the third papal visit to Korea and the first since the late John Paul II came in 1989.

During his time in Korea, Francis will also attend a beatification ceremony elevating 124 Korean priests, nuns and other Catholics killed for their religious beliefs under the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea (CBCK) said the location of the ceremony has not been finalized yet, although Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square and Seongnam’s Seoul Airport have been talked of as potential sites.

“Accepting the request of the Korean President and bishops, Pope Francis will attend festivities celebrating the sixth Asian Youth Day to be held in Daejeon from Aug. 13 to 17,” the CBCK said in a statement.

“He will meet with young people from Asia and deliver a Mass. He also plans to visit Kkottongnae, a community of people with physical disabilities run by the Cheongju diocese, and meet children with disabilities among others.”

Francis, who was elected to succeed a retiring Benedict XVI last March, has been credited by his supporters for injecting fresh air into the Catholic Church with his down-to-earth demeanor and fierce speechifying about the problems of inequality.

Earlier this year, Francis elevated 19 prelates around the world to the rank of cardinal, a group that included Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul, who became the third Korean cardinal, following the late Stephen Kim Sou-hwan (1922-2009) and Nicolas Cheong Jin-suk.

The Vatican first confirmed in January that Francis was eying a trip to Korea.

“In picking Korea among other Asian destinations, Pope Francis might be preparing to offer a prayer for the future of Asian youth and also peace on the Korean peninsula,’’ said Peter Kang Woo-il, bishop of Jeju Island and CBCK president.

According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church 2011, Korea has 5.22 million believers, the fifth-largest among Asian countries and 47th of 228 countries around the world.