- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pope Francis’ calls for peace will continue Friday as he celebrates a stadium-size Mass and visits a Catholic shrine as part of his five-day trip to South Korea.

Francis arrived Thursday in Seoul and was warmly welcomed by South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Later in the day, each called for reconciliation and unity in their opening speeches in the Blue House, the South Korean version of the White House.

“I hope this visit by your Holiness can heal the wounds and relieve the pain that remains in the minds of the Korean people,” said Ms. Park, referring to the April ferry accident that took hundreds of young lives and recent hazing incidents in the South Korean military.

Next year marks 70 years of division in the Korean Peninsula, and at least 70,000 South Korean families remain separated from loved ones in the North, the president said.

South Korea is committed to advancing peace, reconciliation and expanded humanitarian efforts, Ms. Park said. However, North Korea first must suspend its nuclear weapons program because it can take the lives of many people in “one swoop,” she added.

Francis replied that the reconciliation efforts pave “the only sure path to lasting peace.”

“Korea’s quest for peace is a cause close to our hearts, for it affects the stability of the entire area and indeed of our whole war-weary world,” he said. Diplomacy is “based on the firm and persevering conviction that peace can be won through quiet listening and dialogue, rather than by mutual recriminations, fruitless criticisms and displays of force.”

“Peace is not simply the absence of war, but ‘the work of justice,’” Francis added, citing Isaiah 32:17.

A Mass on reconciliation is planned for Monday at Seoul’s major Catholic church, the Myeongdong Cathedral.

Catholics from the North had been invited to attend, but North Korean officials rejected the invitation, noting that the U.S. and South Korea have planned military drills this month.

North Korea fired three short-range rockets into the sea before the pope landed Thursday, plus two more after he landed. All were far east, away from the capital, Seoul.

In Seoul, countless banners have been raised on streets and subway stations to announce the presence of “Papa Francesco.” Korean media are following his every move. The Korean Broadcasting System is providing 124 hours of papal coverage in English and Korean online at Pope.KBS.co.kr.

At the airport Thursday, Francis shook hands with four relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry and two descendants of Korean martyrs who died rather than renounce their faith.

A light moment occurred as the 77-year-old pontiff folded himself into a small, Korean-made car for his ride to the city.

The Kia Soul — which met Francis’ request for a modest car — stood in contrast to the luxury SUVs and police vehicles that surrounded it in the motorcade. One Korean bystander said the pope seemed to climb into the car “like a cat going for a small, cozy place,” ABC News reported.

Friday’s schedule includes a helicopter trip south to Daejeon to hold Mass at the World Cup Stadium. Francis will meet with local seminarians and then fly to the Shrine of Solmoe, the birthplace of Kim Tae-gon, the first Korean Catholic priest.

Later highlights of his visit are to beatify 124 Korean Catholic martyrs and celebrate Mass at the closing of the sixth Asian Youth Day.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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