Pope Francis urged South Koreans, among Asia’s richest people, to be aware of the spiritual “cancer” that often accompanies affluent societies, as he led a mass on Friday to commemorate the ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people in April.
On the second day of his first trip to Asia, the pope met with families of the victims and some survivors of the tragedy before starting the Mass with 50,000 attendees at the World Cup stadium in the central city of Daejeon.
Instead of flying by helicopter as planned, the pope took a high-speed train due to fog in the Daejeon area. A witness said the pope greeted other passengers when he arrived at the Daejeon station, roughly 140 km (85 miles) south of Seoul. Hundreds of trees were decked with yellow ribbons in the city in remembrance of the victims, mostly school children, who died when the Sewol ferry sank.
Pope Francis was greeted at the stadium by a festive crowd, with many in attendance wearing cardboard hats with the words “Viva il Papa, Francesco!” and an image of the pope. Some made a heart shape with their hands as TV cameras focused on them.
In the homily of the mass, the pope urged listeners to “combat the allure of a materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values and the spirit of unbridled competition which generates selfishness and strife”.
He said they should see their faith as an “antidote to the spirit of despair that seems to grow like a cancer in societies which are outwardly affluent, yet often experience inner sadness and emptiness.”
Francis urged Catholics “to be a generous force for spiritual renewal at every level of society.”
The Catholic Church has been growing rapidly in South Korea, doubling in the past 25 years to about 11 percent of the population, adding some 100,000 new members every year.
The main purpose of the pope’s trip is to preside a gathering of Asian Catholic youth and to beatify the 124 people killed for their faith in the 18th century.
LNU ABCom Intern