December 19, 2014
Pope urges Korean reconciliation, reaches out to China
Pope Francis called for peace and reconciliation on the divided Korean peninsula and sent a further message of goodwill to China, wrapping-up a five day trip to South Korea and the first papal visit to Asia in 15 years.
Before a Mass at Seoul's Myeongdong Cathedral, Francis prayed today with a small number of "comfort women", who were forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers occupying the country before and during the World War Two.
"Today's Mass is first and foremost a prayer for reconciliation in this Korean family," Francis said, following up on an impromptu prayer on Friday when he urged Koreans to work to unite as one family, "with no victors or vanquished".
The 1950-1953 Korean war ended in an armed truce that leaves North Korea and South Korea in a technical state of war.
A group of defectors from North Korea and relatives of South Koreans abducted by the North were invited to the mass, which was attended by South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
North Korea turned down an invitation from the South Korean Catholic church for members of its state-run Korean Catholic Association to attend Monday's Mass, citing the start of joint US-South Korean military drills, also due to begin on Monday.
"Let us pray [...] for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter 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," Francis said.
Near the conclusion of today's Mass, a choir sang, "Our wish is unification."
MESSAGE TO BEIJING
As the pope's plane entered Chinese airspace on its return flight to Rome, Francis sent a telegram to Chinese President Xi Jinping, following up an unprecedented message sent during his flight to South Korea on Thursday.
"Returning to Rome after my visit to Korea, I wish to renew to your excellency and your fellow citizens the assurance of my best wishes, as I invoke divine blessings upon your land," the pope's telegram said.
While it is tradition for the pope to send a message to countries he's flying over, the Vatican and Beijing have long had fraught relations, and Francis' predecessor, John Paul II, had to avoid Chinese airspace during an Asia trip.China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday said it had "noted" the pope's position, and repeated its position that Beijing was sincere about wanting to improve relations with the Vatican.