Pope in South Korea: Live Report

Pope Francis takes part in a beatification mass at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul

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Hong Kong (AFP) - 03:10 GMT - Closing Report - AFP IS CLOSING ITS LIVE REPORT on the beatification mass for 124 early Korean Catholic martyrs, led by Pope Francis in Seoul. During his sermon to the massive crowd gathered in Gwanghwamun plaza, the pope sent out a challenge to his flock - asking them what values they might be willing to die for in an increasingly materialistic, globalised world.

The most prominent among those beatified today was an 18th century nobleman, Paul Yun Ji-Chung, who became Korea's first Catholic martyr when he was executed in 1791 after clashing with Confucian officials.

According to the Church, around 10,000 Koreans were martyred in the first 100 years after Catholicism was introduced to the peninsula in 1784.

Later today, the pope will travel to a hilltop community for the sick and disabled in Kkottongnae, around 80 kilometres south of Seoul.

The pope's visit is very much aimed at fuelling a new era of growth for Catholicism in Asia, where the Church is making some spectacular gains.

03:03 GMT - Youth Day - As the crowd begins to depart following the end of the mass in Seoul, many are looking forward to another big event on Sunday - The Asian Youth Day. Tomorrow thousands of young people are expected to converge on Daejeon for yet another celebration, along with Pope Francis.

Youth from across the region - Japan, Philippines, India, etc. have come to South Korea for the event. While some mainland Chinese Catholic youth have made it to Korea, others, reportedly, have been prevented from travelling.

02:56 GMT - More Than Worth It - Kim Jong-Bin, woman from Uijeongbu, a satellite city north of Seoul, has told AFP: “We got here really early in the morning, and it was a long, long wait. But it was more than worth it. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things.”

02:52 GMT - A Great Miracle - Pope Francis is to hold a mass in Seoul's cathedral for reconciliation between North and South Korea, which remain technically at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.

Seoul's Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, who crossed into North Korea for a historic one-day visit in May, says he hopes Francis will bring about "a great miracle" for dialogue between Korea's Communist and capitalist halves.

Other Catholics feel the same: Helena Sam, 46, a businesswoman in Daejeon has told AFP:

"I only hope the pope's message of peace and reconciliation will spread to our brothers and Catholic followers in North Korea."

02:47 GMT - Overwhelmed by Emotion - One woman in her early 60s told AFP: "I was so overwhelmed by emotion and I just started crying as the pope passed before me. It was a beautiful moment.”

02:43 GMT - Mass Has Ended - Pope Francis has left the 'altar stage' in a procession of clergy as the beatification mass comes to an end. While the choirs and crowd continue to sing and wave, the pope is making his way back to the popemobile.

02:39 GMT - Universal Brotherhood - Again raising the issue of the reunification of Korea, South Korean Cardinal Andrea Yeom Soo-jung has told the crowd:

"The Catholic Church in Korea has grown on the blood of the martyrs and has proven to be a good example for Korean society by promoting justice and human rights.

So I think that the beatification of today will be an occasion reminder to make the harmony and unity of Catholics - not only Koreans but also the Korean people and all other peoples of Asia - through the exchange of universal brotherhood."

02:37 GMT - China overshadows - Sometimes referred to as the “elephant in the room”, China and the church’s poor relations with Beijing have overshadowed the pope’s visit to Korea.

Although China made the rare exception of allowing Pope Francis to fly over China’s airspace en route to Seoul – permission not granted to Pope John Paul II in 1989 – it appears a greeting sent to the Chinese leadership “was not received”.

Vatican officials are blaming technical problems for the mishap.

The pope offered his blessings in a message to China's President Xi Xinping, taking advantage of protocol that sees him send a note to nations' leaders as he travels through their airspace.

But the message never arrived, the pope's spokesman Federico Lombardi says.

02:30 GMT - Pro-Democracy Struggle - One of the reasons for the growth of Catholicism in South Korea is the role played by the church during the pro-democracy struggle of the 1970s and 80s.

A number of Catholic leaders established themselves as human rights advocates, standing up to the military regime of the time under the threat of arrest and lengthy imprisonment. Seoul's Myeongdong Cathedralwas a focal point for the pro-democracy movement and was used as a place of sanctuary by many dissidents seeking to avoid arrest.

"There's no doubt that this helped enhance the image of the Church and helped attract new members," Don Baker, the director of the Centre for Korean Research at the University of British Columbia, told AFP.

"It made it appear to be a Korean church, one that was concerned for Korean issues."

02:25 GMT - Communion - Distributing communion to the massive crowd is taking place now, with priests spread out at stages along the streets and Catholics lining up, one by one, to receive it.

The pope is giving communion to those near the stage.

02:23 GMT - Growing influence - In the last census to include religious affiliation in 2005, close to 30 percent of South Koreans identified themselves as Christian.

The majority are Protestants, but Catholics are the fastest growing group with around 5.3 million adherents -- just over 10 percent of the population.

Giles Hewitt, AFP’s South Korea bureau chief says: “As a minority, they punch well above their weight, with Catholics filling nearly 60, or 20 percent, of the 300 seats in the national parliament”.

02:16 GMT - Bow for Peace - During the 'Sign of Peace" - a usual part of any mass - the faithful turn and greet each other, saying: "Peace be with you". In Asia - South Korea, China, Japan - it is more common for the faithful to bow to each other, rather than shake hands, which is more usual in many Western cultures.

02:11 GMT - Cry of the Poor - Living up to his reputation as a voice for the poor and suffering, Pope Francis told the crowd of faithful that the martrys: "challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for.

“Their example has much to say to us who live in societies where, alongside immense wealth, dire poverty is silently growing; where the cry of the poor is seldom heeded."

02:08 GMT - Papal Sermon - During his sermon Pope Francis highlighted the courage of the martyrs he is beatifying and the challenges facing the church today:

"Soon after the first seeds of faith were planted in this land, the martyrs and the Christian community had to choose between following Jesus or the world.

"They had heard the Lord’s warning that the world would hate them because of him (Jn 17:14); they knew the cost of discipleship. For many, this meant persecution, and later flight to the mountains, where they formed Catholic villages.

"They were willing to make great sacrifices and let themselves be stripped of whatever kept them from Christ – possessions and land, prestige and honor – for they knew that Christ alone was their true treasure.

"So often we today can find our faith challenged by the world, and in countless ways we are asked to compromise our faith, to water down the radical demands of the Gospel and to conform to the spirit of this age."

01:55 GMT - Prayers for unity - Prayers for peace are being offered in different of languages - Korean, Chinese, English - representing the global identity of the Catholic Church.

A South Korean teacher led prayers for reunification - referring to the division of the Korean peninsula and the ongoing tensions with North Korea.

At least 10 North Koreans - those involved in running the only Catholic church building in the communist country - were invited to attend the papal mass in Seoul. The invitation was rejected.

01:51 GMT - So Happy - Manoon Suebpila, 65, a Catholic from Thailand, is among 500 Thais who have travelled to South Korea to see the pope. They are all outside the security cordon so are unable to see the stage directly, but they have told AFP they are happy to just hear his voice.

"I’m so happy to be here. We've missed him so much. We like to see him if possible," says Manoon Suebpila.

01:48 GMT - First Aid - Police reports, as quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap agency, say 15 people have so far been sent to hospital due to minor accidents and ailments, while 170 others have been treated by first aid support groups standing in tents around the square.

01:45 GMT - Papal acceptance - Here is the text of the pope’s formal acceptance of the beatification petition:

✚We accepted the petition of the Most Rev. Francis Xavier Ahn Myong-ok, President of the Special Episcopal Commission to Promote Beatification and Canonization of the CBCK, as well as of many other brother bishops and the faithful, having heard the opinions of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

With our apostolic authority, We decree that the Venerable Servants of God Paul Yun Ji-chung and 123 companions, are hereafter called the Blessed, and in accordance with places and ways determined by the related norms, the day of their feast is celebrated on 29th of May every year.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

01:43 GMT - 'Not Invited' - AFP’s reporter reporter Lim Chang-Won has talked to some without invites who were kept outside the security cordon: Jang Yon-Jin from a Catholic church in Seoul was sitting with her husband and daughter outside the police line: "I was not selected to participate in today's event but we came here anyway to see a historic event. He will bring peace to us. His message of peace will help ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and I hope the pope will visit North Korea someday."

01:40 GMT - Procession - During the procession around the square, the pope made an impromptu stop by a group of relatives of victims of April’s Sewol disaster, who have been camped out in Gwanghwamun for weeks to push their campaign for an independent inquiry into the tragedy.

The pope climbed down from his vehicle and went to greet the relatives, who have urged the pope to support their campaign.

He particularly greeted Kim Young-Oh, whose daughter died in the disaster, and who has been on a hunger strike for more than one month. Kim pressed his forehead to the pope’s hands several times and handed him a letter.

01:33 GMT - Large Posters - Large posters of the 124 Korean martyrs hang near the stage where the pope is celebrating mass. A metal cross errected above the altar stands in contrast to the traditional Gwanghwamun palace behind it.

01:33 GMT - Beatification - The title ‘Beatified’ is awarded by the pope to those it recognises as having made a significant contribution to the church. In order for a person to be beatified – and from then on to be called Blessed - one miracle must be believed to have taken place at their hands or through their intercession. Beatification is also one step on the way to sainthood. Pope John Paul II beatified more than 1300 people during his papacy.

01:26 GMT - Rites Controversy - The 124 martyrs being beatified today where among those executed during the early 19th century for refusing to give up their faith under pressure from the government The early converts to Catholicism refused to perform the traditional Confucian ancestor rites. The church believed these ancestor rites were really ‘ancestor worship’. The debate became known as the “Rites Controversy’ and was a problem faced by the church in many parts of Asia, in particular China.

01:17 GMT - Background - In the 1600s the writings of the Jesuit Matteo Ricci reached South Korea. Ricci had made a big impact in China, where he was accepted into the imperial court. He was respected because of his knowledge of science, astronomy and mathematics. This was key to why his writings reached South Korea – then a deeply Confucian society. In the 1780s, some Koreans, who had been baptized in Beijing arrived home helping to spread the faith, but the first Catholic Missionaries did not arrive until 1794.

01:07 GMT - Beatification Petition - Pope Francis tells the crowd that he accepts their request to beatify the 124 early martyrs of the church in South Korea. The crowd cheers and claps - the deafening sound filling the streets of the capital.

00:59 GMT - Beatification Mass Begins - Silence descended on Seoul despite the presence of so many people as the pope lead the opening prayer of the Mass. The only sound was of media and police helicopters having above - capturing the sight of the streets of Seoul packed with people, standing silent and prayerful. Many of the women in the crowd have their heads covered with small, light, white veils - a traditional sign of respect, especially popular in Asia.

00:51 GMT - Pope Arrives - Leading a procession of clergy, Pope Francis has walked up to the huge stage erected in the square in Seoul where he will hold the beatification mass. Kissing the altar in traditional fashion he then set about blessing the altar with incense.

00:47 GMT - Eager Faithful - Some of the Catholic faithful began arriving at the site of the celebration as early as 3:30am, AFP’s Seoul bureau reports. Three hours before the event, which is scheduled to begin at 10:00am local time 0100 GMT), Gwanghwamun boulevard was already crammed with people, stretching for one-kilometre north of Seoul’s City Hall

00:40 GMT - Tight Security - As Catholics flock in their hundreds of thousands to Gwanghwamun Plaza in Seoul for the martyrs mass, the police have thrown up a tight security cordon around the area. The security precautions taken include placing snipers on the rooftops around the plaza where the open-air mass is taking place and some 30,000 police on duty.

00:31 GMT - WELCOME TO AFP’s LIVE REPORT ON POPE FRANCIS’ VISIT TO SOUTH KOREA. Up to one million people are gathering in Seoul to celebrate the beatification of 124 early Korean Catholic martyrs, led by Pope Francis. The mass is the centrepiece of the pope's five day visit to South Korea, the first papal trip to Asia in 15 years.

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