The beatification at Gwanghwamun

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The beatification at Gwanghwamun


“With our apostolic authority, we decree that the Venerable Servants of God, Paul Yun Ji-chung and his 123 companions, are hereafter called the Blessed, and in accordance with places and ways determined by the related norms, the day of their feast will be celebrated on the 29th of May every year,” Pope Francis declared during the beatification event at Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, 10:08 a.m. on Aug. 16. The screens showed the faces of 124 Korean martyrs, and 900,000 believers cheered as the choir sang.

Some Catholics in attendance were tearful. I am not a Catholic, but I felt my heart warm and was deeply moved by the scene. Korea is the only Asian country that voluntarily accepted Catholicism. Thanks to the sacrifices of many martyrs, the religion took root here.

Generally, a cardinal holds the beatification ceremony on behalf of the pope. It is extremely rare for the pope to personally hold a beatification Mass. The event in Gwanghwamun was also especially significant because Pope Francis has proved that he lives a life of consideration and consolation. He acted modestly and sincerely: During the car parade before the Mass, he never failed to stop whenever he spotted children and didn’t hesitate to kiss them on their foreheads. Believers couldn’t help but smile, and priests and nuns were on tiptoes trying to see him.

The event’s highlight was when the pope met with the Sewol ferry victims’ families. When the pope got out of his car and held the hands of the family members, believers and Koreans cried together. The beatification in Gwanghwamun was more than a Catholic event. It was a place for national integration and healing.

But there were a few things that were not quite pleasing. National Assembly speaker Chung Ui-hwa attended the Mass along with other politicians and government officials. They were seated in the front-row VIP section, which was prepared by the Committee for the Papal Visit to Korea. The general Catholic believers - who sat on the ground during the Mass - felt dispirited. “I arrived in Seoul at 4 a.m. and stayed overnight,” a Catholic from the Chuncheon Diocese said. “We are celebrating a happy day, but I didn’t want to see politicians in the front row at a religious event.”

The excessively protective escort made up of military, police and Blue House guards also caused frowns. Without proper announcements, routes to cross Gwanghwamun Square were blocked at 8:30 a.m., inspiring complaints. One person said, “I went to the restroom and my children are on the other side, but I cannot get to them because they closed the path suddenly.”

The Protestant rally against the pope’s visit was also completely inappropriate. These protestors distanced themselves from the teachings of the pope to “come low” and “communicate.” The organizers should have been more considerate as Pope Francis’s visit would likely provide healing to the citizens’ troubled minds after disturbing events like the Sewol ferry tragedy and the death of Private Yun.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 18, Page 29

* The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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