by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The visit of Pope Francis to South Korea from Aug. 14 to 18 thrilled many in that country. But they were not alone.
Korean and Korean- American Catholics in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas were also thrilled.
“The Korean Catholic community here in Kansas followed the Holy Father’s visit to Korea with much interest,” said Father Thomas Joo, chaplain, in residence at Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa.
Korean Catholics were honored by the fact he chose to visit Korea, he said. The pope’s focus on young Catholics is a reflection of his desire to further spread the Gospel in Asia and throughout the world.
Many of the things Pope Francis said and did resonated with many Koreans, he said, including those now living in the United States.
One of the messages the pope brought was of peace and reconciliation — not only between the divided people of North Korea and South Korea, but also to the divisions within South Korean society.
The pope’s visit with parents of the Sewol ferry disaster gave comfort and some degree of closure in the loss of their children, said Father Joo. Also, the Mass to beatify Paul Yun Ji Chung and his 124 companions was a very powerful moment.
“To Korean Catholics, [the Gwanghwamun Gate in Seoul] holds a deeper and more painful meaning as this is the spot where the martyrs suffered and shed their tears and blood for faith in Jesus Christ,” said Father Joo.
“On that same day, the pope also visited the ‘Village of Flowers’ and gave comfort to those who are on the periphery of society, the poor and disabled,” continued Father Joo. “I looked at this visit with particular interest, because this village is part of the Cheongju Archdiocese, which I am from and all other Korean pastors assigned to the Korean Catholic community come from.”
Finally, Father Joo was personally gratified by Pope Francis’ message regarding the poor.
“The pope never stopped addressing the issue of poor people during his five-day visit to Korea,” said Father Joo. “In meetings with bishops, presidents, public officials, ascetics and youths, Pope Francis continued to urge them to lead a frugal life and to share their life with the poor.”
“Most of all, the pope was furious that poor people had no choice but to live continuously poor,” said Father Joo, noting how Pope Francis pointed out the disparity between the poor and the materially well-off in Korean society. What impact did the pope have on Koreans, Catholic and non-Catholic? Father Joo noticed three things.
First, the pope wants a modest church for the poor. This could be seen in his words and actions, such as using only small cars.
Second, he calls Catholics to live as servants of others. The pope set a personal example by his own humble life.
Third, he called Catholics to participate in society and engage in current social issues. This could be seen in his call for reconciliation, meeting with Korean “comfort women” of World War II, and meeting with the unemployed.
“The pope’s visit was meaningful not only for Korean Catholics but also Korean society in general,” said Father Joo. “I think he has great interest in South Korea since he visited Korea first after he became a pope.”
“The pope is like a father figure who is taking care of his child who is in pain and troubled, first,” Father Joo continued. “Korea has a long and distressed history, and still has conflict between south and north. The pope visited Korea to heal Koreans, not just Korean Catholics.”