Speaking to the Asian Bishops, Francis introduced himself as their “brother bishop”, and this definition, as effective as it is expressive of a commonly perceived fact, helps one to understand the esteem garnered by his visit to Korea, and certainly not only among Catholics. The third international journey of Bergoglio’s pontificate, after those of John Paul IIin 1984 and 1989, and the third journey by a Pontiff to the “Land of the Morning Calm” in little more than 30 years, it was also his first visit to the Far East. Even as a young Jesuit he had wanted to be a missionary in these lands.
The five days in Korea therefore began the fulfillment of a dream, introducing a mission without borders. First and foremost Francis addressed all the inhabitants of a lively country, where, though a minority, Catholics are important and rapidly growing in number, and where the Pope, with the beatification of 124 martyrs, celebrated the heroic beginnings of a young Church borne from the laity between the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A twofold dialogue was then initiated: with the youth of Asia, who were holding their Sixth gathering here, and with a group of the continent’s Bishops.
Thus Francis’ journey to Korea ideally embraced all of Asia, where, in less than five months, the Pope will return to visit Sri Lanka and the Philippines. And while the Pontiff persuasively compared the divided Korean peninsula to a family where everyone speaks the same language, and concluded his visit by praying for peace and for the dramatic situation of the religious minorities in Iraq, he also shared his hopes before the Bishops of Asia that ever more fraternal relationships may open up between the countries of the continent, including those which still do not have full diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
The crystal clear message of the Pope resounded throughout the Korean peninsula and the whole Asian continent, where the majority of humanity lives, introducing himself as a brother who, by coming close, can open his arms to everyone, without distinctions. And the instructions that Francis imparted by this visit to Asia is the very heart of Christ’s Gospel: to worship God and to do good. The Pontiff said this to the thousands of young people who came to Korea from all over the continent and who now return to their countries with this message.
Francis allows the Gospel to shine through his actions and his words: this is why the essence of the Christian message lived so profoundly by the Pope is felt to be authentic by believers but also by those who do not adhere to any religion. The origins of the Church in Korea came about in this way, in the life of the martyrs, largely nameless lay people, and long before, when the path of Christ was witnessed to in few regions of the Asian continent.
His most essential address was that to the Bishops of Asia on dialogue, which is fundamental to Christian identity and is therefore the very basis of the Church’s mission: half a century later, it was a strong reproposal of Paul VI’s programmatic Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, in content and fact. Furthermore, the Pope recalled that the Church grows not through proselytism but through attraction, quoting the words of Benedict XVI. Attraction comes from opening oneself to others so as to walk together in the presence of God.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 16, 2019
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