Why did pope excite Koreans so much?

August 19, 2014

A renowned psychiatrist says it’s the same reason Koreans are pouring in to see the record-breaking movie about Admiral Yi Soon-shin – “Koreans are longing for a charismatic leader.”

In front of a statue of Yi Soon-shin in Gwanghwamun Square, families of youths that died in the ferry sinking pleaded to the Pope before a beatification ceremony on Saturday. (Newsis)

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Pope Francis enjoyed a rock-star welcome during his recent visit to South Korea.

This may appear to be a little odd, given that Catholics account for only 10 percent of the nation’s population, behind Buddhists and Protestants, at 23 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Lee Si-hyung, a renowned psychiatrist, calls it “the Pope phenomenon,” which reflects the fact that Koreans are longing for a charismatic leader.

Lee made comparisons between the Pope’s popularity and the record-breaking box-office-hit movie “Roaring Currents,” which is the story of Admiral Yi Soon-shin leading Korean forces to victory against great odds over a Japanese armada in 1597.

“These two events illustrate Koreans’ deep-seated desire to have a hero who can lead them through a myriad of challenges,” Lee told The Korea Times.

He said the Sewol ferry tragedy, North Korea, Japan and the economy have deepened their desperation.

“Koreans are in dire need of comfort and healing,” Lee said.

Argentine Ambassador to Korea Jorge Roballo said the Argentine-born Pope Francis has leadership characteristics so he was not surprised to see Koreans become excited about the pontiff.

“Although only 10 percent of Koreans are Catholic believers, I felt that the rest of the population here were willing to take a moment to heed the words of Pope Francis. His message goes far beyond the Catholic community,” the envoy said.

Roballo said the pontiff has strong communication skills illustrated by his choice of straightforward language.

“His message is for unity, peace, love and dialogue. I think Koreans understood very well who the Pope is and what he is doing,” he said.

An estimated 1 million people gathered in Gwanghwamun last week when the Pope beatified 124 Korean martyrs.

He left Seoul Monday after a Mass in Myeongdong Cathedral.

Former wartime sex slaves, the families of the victims of the ferry Sewol and underprivileged people attended.

Last year, the Catholic Church leader caused a media frenzy in Brazil, his first foreign destination after being elected pontiff.

Brazil is a mostly Catholic nation with approximately 65 percent of the population practicing the religion.