Pope underlines a path to peace

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Pope underlines a path to peace

In his last Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral yesterday morning, Pope Francis concluded his journey with a message of peace for the two Koreas, encouraging them to “forgive each other and make efforts for a unified Korean Peninsula.”

At the beginning of his sermon during his Mass for peace and reconciliation, the pontiff - who made headlines this past week for his unwavering compassion - made it clear that the service was for both Koreas, although he never specifically mentioned “unification” or “North Korea.”

“Today’s Mass is devoted to the reconciliation of a people who constitute a single family, most importantly,” he said. “The first reading introduces the God’s promise to gather again the people who have dispersed after disasters and division into a consensus and prosperity. We understand this saying in the historical context that division and conflict have persisted for 60 years on a single people.”

Pope Francis also stressed the importance of forgiveness, referring to the Book of Matthew 18:21-22, recited as the gospel before his homily.

In this passage, Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother or sister who sins against him, to which Jesus responds, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

“Jesus asks us to believe forgiveness is the gate leading to reconciliation. … This is the message I want to leave to you as I complete my visit to Korea. Now let’s talk, meet and pray for new chances to go beyond differences. Let’s pray for generosity for humanitarian aid for those in need of help to continue, and for further spread of the notion that all Koreans are brothers and sisters belonging to a household and a single people.”

The pope’s emphasis on humanitarian support and to unite Korea as a single nation stood in line with President Park Geun-hye’s stance on Pyongyang.

The pontiff reiterated peace on the Korean Peninsula twice before departing on Korean Air Lines at about 1 p.m. from Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi.

“I wish the artificial division status could proceed toward unity so that peaceful unification arrives soon,” the pope told Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who saw him off.

Pope Francis had his last message delivered through the Korean Air Lines captain soon after the plane took off, relaying via the control tower: “I am again praying for the peace and happiness of the Korean Peninsula. May God bless you all.”

Experts contend Pope Francis’s visit provided a justification for both Koreas to work toward peace and that his sermons and repeated messages could potentially help pave the way for reconciliation.

“Although the pope’s expression was indirect, he was actually issuing a strong message to leaders and authorities of both South and North Koreas,” said Kim Yong-hyun, professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “It may provide a turning point [for the Koreas] to transform that tension into an open door for dialogue.”

Near the end of his address, Pope Francis briefly turned his head left toward President Park, who was sitting on the right side of the altar alongside bishops who accompanied the pontiff, and mentioned her name.

“Prior to my departure from Korea, I would like to thank President Park Geun-hye and government officials,” he said.

He presented the president with a rosary and a medal as gifts after the Mass, asking her to visit the Vatican later. President Park has attended two Catholic Masses since she took office in February last year. Her Christian name is Juliana. She was baptized in 1965 while attending Sacred Heart Girls Middle School, a Catholic school in Yongsan District, central Seoul.

She was later christened in a Protestant church and also received two Buddhist names in 2000 and 2006 from two different Buddhist monks.

The Blue House has previously stated that the president officially has “no religion,” and does not visit a religious organization on a regular basis.

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

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