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Friday 15 August

The second day of the Papal journey, also the day of the Solemnity of the Assumption, began with the celebration of morning Mass in Daejeon's World Cup Stadium.

In addition to it being a holy day for the faithful, this was a special day for all Koreans as it coincided with the national holiday celebrating liberation from the Japanese at the end of World War ii. It is a holiday even though this end of foreign rule also marked the start of violent conflicts between North and South, which led to the painful division of the peninsula.

Due to heavy fog, a spur-of-the-minute change of plans meant travelling from Seoul to Daejeon by train instead of helicopter, a fantastic surprise for daily passengers who arrived at the Seoul station as usual but unexpectedly found Pope Francis at platform 3! After his 8:45 departure he arrived in Daejeon to descend the escalator along with stunned commuters who, once recovered from the initial shock, quickly began to gather around him.

Here in the city hosting the 6th Asian Youth Day, the Pope celebrated the Holy Mass for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. All of Korea's prelates were present, and Bishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik did the honours.

50,000 people were expected, but many more came, especially outside the stadium. It was difficult to distinguish where they all came from, but according to the organizers there were more participants from the Philippines than from South Korea; others came from Japan, India, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Mongolia. In all 23 countries were represented in the crowd which cheered as Pope Francis travelled among them.

The Pontiff's car stopped for an encounter with survivors and families of the victims of the sinking of the Sewol ferry on 16 April, in which close to 300 people died, most of whom were young people.

Fr John Chong Che-chon, who assisted with interpretation during this visit, had his work cut out for him but managed to communicate the different moods that marked the encounter.

An important moment happened in the Sacristy, where six survivors and two parents of victims of the Sewol tragedy awaited the Pope. Speaking to him in Korean as Fr John interpreted, Lee Ho Jin, the father of Lee Seng hyun, a youth who died in the catastrophe, asked the Holy Father to baptise him. The baptism took place on Sunday in the chapel of the Nunciature.

The celebration concluded with the Angelus, after which Pope Francis was driven to the Major Seminary of Daejeon where he was joined for lunch by about 20 young people from various Asian countries.

The Pontiff was at ease among the young people, who after initial emotions had calmed, interacted with him like a travel companion. Lunch with the youth took place in a family-like atmosphere with pleasant conversation, thanks to Fr John, who speaks various Asian languages.

The weather had improved since the morning, and after lunch, the Holy Father was able to travel by helicopter to Solmoe as planned. From his arrival at Ugan Elementary School, he travelled the 8km to the Shrine of Solmoe by car, the last 3 km in a convertible.

A sea of young people surrounded the Shrine, which was built in the birthplace of St Andrew Kim Taegon, the first Korean priest and martyr. Upon arrival, the Pontiff prayed in front of the small house before moving on to the youth gathering, which took place inside the mega tent.

It is difficult to estimate the number of youth attending Asian Youth Day but, although it was nothing like the oceans of people that attended World Youth Day, there are different things to consider. The presence of numerous seminarians and around 2,000 Asian youth preparing to enter the seminary showed the great vocational character of the meeting.

There was much joy. Hours of dancing, singing, and rhythmic chanting in which the young people joined in to celebrate.

All of the Asian Bishops present — more than 60 — suddenly climbed on stage.

Pope Francis traversed the central aisle. He arrived on stage. He embraced all of those young people with his eyes.

There was also a distinguished guest from another “family”, none other than Confucius, who was referred to by Bishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik. He quoted the famous Confucian saying: “ How delightful it is to have friends come from afar”.

A coreographed Indonesian dance was dedicated to the Bishop of Rome, followed by questions and testimony: a Cambodian girl recalled the many priests and nuns in her village, massacred by Pol Pot; a boy from Hong Kong told the Pope that he is loved by Chinese around the world because they feel when he speaks in defence of immigrants he does so for them as well; finally Marina, a Korean girl, spoke to him of the confusion of values shaking the conscience of her peers, who often do not know where to go or what to do.

The singing and dancing resumed, the parable of the Merciful Father and the Prodigal Son was performed, and a reading from the Gospel of Luke was presented musically.

A sudden silence fell, and Pope Francis responded to the questions he was asked by the young people. He was struck by Marina's words and not content with his written text. There was so much he wanted to say. He shared that more comfortably, of course, in Italian, which was interpreted into Korean by a young priest who offered his assistance. Even though Pope Francis does not speak Korean, he followed along and asked for clarification if he felt an idea did not go across. For example, he did not hear Marina's name pronounced.

The singing resumed as the Pontiff's car pulled away.

It was already late in the evening when the Pontiff returned to the Nunciature, having stopped to visit the Jesuit community at the University of Sogang. It had been a busy day but Pope Francis appeared satisfied and in perfect shape. A quiet dinner in private and the second day of his visit to Korea was over.(mario ponzi)




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 23, 2020