Pope says Asian eye on wealth is wrong

Leader of Catholic Church urges 50,000-strong crowd at mass to reject materialism and pays tribute to more than 300 killed in ferry tragedy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 11:08pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 12:08pm

Pope Francis urged Catholic youth at a mass yesterday in South Korea - one of the region's economic powerhouses - to renounce the materialism that afflicts much of Asian society.

The pope told a 50,000-strong crowd at the mass in a Daejeon football stadium to reject "inhuman" economic systems that disenfranchise the poor.

He urged Koreans to pray and work for the reunification of their peninsula, saying they should aim to reunite as one family "with no victors or vanquished".

The remarks were the pope's most specific comments on the division of Korea since starting his first trip to Asia on Thursday, and were made in response to a question by a girl at a youth rally.

He also paid tribute to the more than 300 people killed in the Sewol ferry disaster in April.

The pope received a boisterous welcome from young Asians as he celebrated his first public mass in the country, which has a small but growing church.

He took a high-speed train from Seoul to Daejeon where young Catholics were meeting for World Youth Day.

In his main message, Francis urged people to be a source of renewal and hope.

"May they 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. "May they also reject inhuman economic models which create new forms of poverty and marginalise workers."

His message will not be easily accepted in South Korea. Many link success with displays of status and wealth and plastic surgery is booming. Competition among the young is fierce, especially for places at elite schools.

Pope Francis said that in such "outwardly affluent" societies, people often experienced "inner sadness and emptiness" - which he likened to a cancer in society.

Before the mass he met about a dozen survivors of the ferry disaster and relatives of the dead.

One of them, Lee Ho Jin, whose son died, asked the pope to baptise him; Pope Francis agreed.

More than 300 people - most of them high school students on a class trip - died when the Sewol ferry sank on April 16.

The pope, wearing a yellow ribbon - a symbol of tribute for the ferry victims - reached out to the survivors and families.

"May the Lord welcome the dead into his peace, console those who mourn and continue to sustain those who so generously came to the aid of their brothers and sisters," he said. "May this tragic event which has brought all Koreans together in grief confirm their commitment to work together in solidarity for the common good."

Chinese Catholics cheered Pope Francis' visit to South Korea, hoping his trip would help end the estrangement between Beijing and the Vatican.

But the Vatican acknowledged that a telegram of greetings sent by the pope to the Chinese leadership apparently never arrived. The Vatican sent the telegram from Francis' chartered plane as it entered Chinese airspace early on Thursday, following Vatican protocol that calls for the pope to send such greetings whenever he flies over a foreign country. China's embassy in Italy asked the Vatican for a copy, which was immediately sent to the embassy.

AP, Reuters






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