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Pope urges Korean reconciliation

Pope Francis has wrapped up his first trip to Asia, calling for peace on the divided Korean peninsula. Speaking at a special reconciliation mass in Seoul's main cathedral on Monday (Aug 18), he said all Koreans are members of one family.

SEOUL: Pope Francis has wrapped up his first trip to Asia, calling for peace on the divided Korean peninsula. Speaking at a special reconciliation mass in Seoul's main cathedral on Monday (Aug 18), he said all Koreans are members of one family.

His visit to South Korea is the first by a Pope to Asia in 15 years. In one of the final duties of the historic visit - and one of the most symbolic - Pope Francis embraced seven elderly "comfort women" who were seated in the front row before mass at the Myeongdong Cathedral.

The "comfort women" were sex slaves during World War II when Korea was under the control of Imperial Japan. "We suffered under Japan, but we asked that the Pope will think of us and pray for this country and our future generation," said "comfort woman" Kang In Chul.

During the Mass, the Pope spoke about peace and reconciliation - especially between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war. He called for forgiveness on both sides, and was handed a "crown of thorns" made from barbed wire taken from the demilitarized zone.

"Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people," said Pope Francis.

The Pope's humble outreach to people from different walks of life has touched the hearts of many Koreans during his visit, whether they are Catholics or not.

The Pope's squeezing into a compact Korean car after arriving at the Seoul airport was a defining early moment, a deliberate statement in a country where people of power usually ride in expensive luxury cars. And it was the beginning of a rock-star reception the pontiff received during his stay in South Korea, where five percent of the population are Catholics.

It culminated in one million people joining a beatification ceremony in central Seoul on Saturday. But this trip has also been about the human touch. Pope Francis personally met family members of the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking.

He baptised a father whose son was among those who died in the ferry tragedy in April. "After I lost my son Seung Hyun, I felt so much loss, sadness and anger. But after meeting the Pope, I feel like much of that has disappeared," said Mr Lee Ho Jin.

The Pope also ran overtime, meeting disabled children who had been abandoned by their family members.

Young believers from across Asia said they have been inspired by the Pope's humility. Alexander John, a youth from Pakistan, said: "I have never seen a person at this level, so down to earth, so close and warm. He met us so humbly and greeted each of us."

The Pope's visit to South Korea has cemented the importance of Asia to the Catholic Church, and his message that harmony can emerge from conflict is one that has strongly resonated with his followers, far from the Vatican. 

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