Church prepares for Pope’s visit

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Church prepares for Pope’s visit

The Korean Catholic Church is finishing off a flurry of preparatory measures for Pope Francis’ monumental visit to the country from Aug. 14 to Aug. 18. Those include setting up medical and safety support, issuing special coins in celebration of the event and finalizing its official list of press members.

Francis’ preparatory committee here, under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, said in a briefing yesterday that it has completed coordinating medical support with local governments, the National Emergency Management Agency, the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the police for the pontiff, his 30-person retinue and some 60 bishops from around the world.

The 77-year-old Bishop of Rome is visiting Korea on his first trip to Asia since he took over the papacy from his predecessor Benedict XVI in March 2013 on the occasion of the sixth Asian Youth Day, to be held in the diocese of Daejeon.

The preparatory committee will install a control center with medical staff near the venues that Pope Francis will visit - such as Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, Daejeon World Cup Stadium, the Solmoe Holy Ground in Dangjin, South Chungcheong, and Haemi Martyrium Shrine in Seosan, South Chungcheong.

The Catholic University of Korea Saint Mary’s Hospital will serve as headquarters, and six hospitals under it will dispatch 174 medical staff members.

The Pope is scheduled to beatify Paul Yun Ji-chung and 123 companions during a Mass on Aug. 16 at Gwanghwamun Square. The committee will install the altar on the northern part end of the square near Gyeongbok Palace, a historical Korean site and a major tourist attraction in Seoul.

After Francis, who is renowned for his humble life style and amiable personality, made it public he would not use a bullet-proof vehicle and preferred to use the smallest car available in Korea during his visit here, the committee has arranged to offer him the mid-size compact Kia Soul, from Kia Motors, an affiliate of Hyundai Motor Group.

Although there are smaller vehicles, the nation’s top automaker chose the Soul for safety reasons, the committee said. The Pope will use the car to travel short distances and take a helicopter provided by the Blue House for long-distance trips during his five-day stay here. He uses a blue Ford Focus at the Vatican in a departure from the luxury BMWs and Mercedes in which his predecessor was driven.

The committee also said some 2,800 domestic and foreign reporters from 23 countries have registered to accompany the religious leader.

Despite meticulous preparations on the church’s side, the Korean government has still not appointed a new minister of culture, sports and tourism, the official slated to be in charge of the pontiff’s visit. The seat has remained vacant since July 17, when President Park Geun-hye sacked former Minister Yoo Jin-ryong. The nomination is set for next week at the earliest. The president is on vacation this week.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]




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