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One million throng Korean capital to see Pope's mass for martyrs

Nearly one million turned up in the capital Seoul on Saturday (Aug 16) for Pope Francis to beatify 124 Korean martyrs who were killed in Korea for their faith in the 18th and 19th centuries.

SEOUL: Nearly one million turned up in the capital Seoul on Saturday (Aug 16) for Pope Francis to beatify 124 Korean martyrs who were killed in Korea for their faith in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Roads near Gwanghwanmun square in the heart of Seoul were closed as people gathered as early as Friday night to attend this ceremony.

Only some 170,000 people were officially invited to the ceremony - they were the ones who got to sit near the altar which was set up in front of Gwanghwamun, the south gates to Gyeongbokgung palace and the presidential Blue House. The rest were seated on the ground as police in green vests stood guard along the barricades.

Reports say there were about one million people who attended the event.

The ceremony is the climax of the pope's visit to South Korea as many see this as a symbolic victory for a faith that suffered for decades on the Korean peninsula. The 124 martyrs were the first priests during the 18th and 19th Century in Korea. The beatification ceremony gives them the title “blessed” and marks their first step towards sainthood.

Those who watched it, even if they were not Catholics, said it was a very touching moment.

"The most important thing today is the beatification ceremony,” said one non-Catholic. “It is a wonderful feeling to imagine these people leading the country spiritually forever. They will have more guidance they can offer even if they are no longer physically with us today. I thought that was an incredibly beautiful moment."

Before he arrived, Pope Francis was in his open-topped car so he could make contact with the people or bless a baby as he had done so many times during his stay here in Korea.

He also got out at one point to bless a group of families who lost their loved ones in the Sewol ferry tragedy. He has touched the hearts of many people here - especially since he was seen wearing a yellow ribbon - sharing the loss felt by the nation for the hundreds of people who died in the ferry sinking.

"There are lots of unrest now, and I think peace is needed globally. In that sense, I think it's good that the Pope is here. I think it is consoling this nation," said a young Korean who is currently doing his military service.

One Filipino - whose husband works in Korea - said she flew all the way from the Philippines for this event. "When I was standing there, even the pope from afar was really amazing. I was getting teary-eyed," she said.

The pope's visit to South Korea is significant as the Vatican is hoping to reach out not just to the Catholics here who account for about five per cent of the population, but to all Asians in this Continent. Currently only about 3.2 per cent of the continent's population are Catholics. 

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