Pontiff Addresses Tens of Thousands in World Cup Stadium
By Deborah Ball and Jonathan ChengUpdated Aug. 15, 2014 2:22 p.m. ET
Pope Francis held Mass at Daejeon World Cup Stadium on the second day of his trip to South Korea. The WSJ’s Deborah Kan speaks to Lionel Jensen, associate professor at the University of Notre Dame, about Asia’s importance to the Vatican.
DAEJEON, South Korea— Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Friday before tens of thousands of cheering participants and later met with young people from around Asia on the second day of his five-day trip to South Korea.
The morning Mass, celebrating the feast of the Assumption, was held in the packed Daejeon World Cup Stadium, which has a capacity of about 50,000 people. Before the Mass, the pope met with eight survivors and two parents of those who died in the Sewol ferry disaster in April. Banners on the roads leading to the stadium called for the pope to remember the victims.
Pope Francis also used Friday’s events to speak out against what he described as the dangers of economic inequality and the excesses of capitalism, a favorite theme of his and one that could resonate in South Korea, where rapid economic growth has brought social pain.
Participants in the Mass arrived at the stadium at dawn and waited for four hours for it to start. While they waited, a master of ceremonies led the crowd in an enthusiastic wave around the stadium.
Pope Francis meets with South Korean bishops in Seoul on Thursday, at the start of his five-day trip. European Pressphoto Agency
The Mass in Daejeon, the pope’s first in public in South Korea, took place on the country’s independence day, the 69th anniversary of the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. North Korea, through its state media, marked the anniversary by firing three short-range missiles into the sea on Thursday just before the pope’s plane landed in Seoul.
Underscoring the theme, a children’s choir, wearing Korea’s colorful traditional hanbok dresses, sang Arirang, a folk song considered the country’s unofficial anthem.
A disco-era Korean pop star, Insooni, warmed up the crowd with an upbeat set that featured backup dancers and a rapper, while Grammy-winning soprano Jo Sumi performed. Both are Catholics. In South Korea, many prominent celebrities and pop stars are practicing Catholics.
The crowd cheered and chanted “Viva Papa!” when the pope entered the stadium in a Popemobile specially made by Kia
Do Hyang-sook, a 50-year-old who has been a Catholic since she was a child, came with her sister from Wonju, a city southeast of Seoul. Upon seeing the pope, she said, “I’m so happy that I want to cry.”
Before the Mass, the pope met survivors of April’s ferry sinking, which left more than 300 dead, and two parents of the victims. One parent asked the pope to baptize him; the pontiff will do so Saturday in Seoul.
In the afternoon, Pope Francis met with thousands of young people at a shrine at Solmoe that honors a Korean martyr who was also the first ordained priest on the peninsula. The meeting was part of a multiday Asian Youth Day celebration, the main reason for the pope’s trip to South Korea. The young people mobbed the pope, snapping photos and offering him gifts. He was given a yellow-ribbon pin, which is the symbol of the ferry tragedy, and he pinned it to his cassock.
The trip, Pope Francis’s first to Asia and the third by a pope to South Korea, aims to highlight the importance of the region to Vatican hopes of spreading the faith on the continent with the smallest percentage of Catholics. The visit with Asian youth is a key part of Pope Francis’s efforts to energize the Catholic Church by reaching out to young people.