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The Pope’s English, a Korean Car and a Mea Culpa

Pope in Kia Soul


Vatican Radio - published on 08/14/14

Francis makes a splash in Korea on his first visit to Asia.

Pope Francis has arrived in Korea, to begin a five-day pastoral visit, the highlights of which include the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs and the celebration of the 6th Asian Youth Day.

Vatican Radio’s Sean-Patrick Lovett reports from Seoul that the Holy Father’s visit is dominating the headlines and capturing the attention of the entire nation.

He also had a perspective on the Pope’s first speeches in English.

"Many of the English-speaking journalists here at the Press Center in Seoul were so excited about hearing Pope Francis pronounce his first speech in Korea in their language, they almost forgot to listen to what he said," Lovett said in a broadcast. "Nearly all of them awarded him top marks for pronunciation, modulation and tone—which they felt more than befitted the occasion."

The occasion was the first public event on the Pope’s Korean schedule: his meeting with the nation’s authorities, members of government, the diplomatic corps, and President Park Geun-hye.

The Korean president’s address centred largely on describing the different events that will involve the Holy Father during this apostolic visit – from the celebration of Asian Youth Day to the beatification of the 124 martyrs. Referring to the final Mass for peace and reconciliation scheduled to be celebrated in Myeong-dong Cathedral on the final day of the trip, she spoke of the Korean War (waged between 1950 and 1953) as a gash in the nation’s history and a wound that has lacerated Korean families as well.

Pope Francis also referred to the fact that Korea is a land that “has long suffered a lack of peace." He expressed his appreciation for all efforts made towards fostering a spirit of reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, “for it inspires stability," he said, “in the entire area and of our whole war-weary world." (By the way, it was that tongue-twister that won him the unashamedly appreciative applause of the English-language press following the speech).

The Pope warmly encouraged “the formation of new generations of citizens ready to bring the wisdom and vision inherited from their forebears and born of their faith to the great political and social questions facing the nation."

He reiterated the Korean Catholic community’s commitment to participating fully in the life of the country, by reminding those present that “the Church wishes to contribute to the education of the young, and the growth of a spirit of solidarity with the poor and disadvantaged."

But his final words were for the elderly and the young people: “By preserving memory and inspiring courage," he said, “they are our greatest treasure and our hope for the future."

Pope Francis is top story in all the nation’s papers and news shows. Pictures of his smiling face continue to flash across screens and fill the front pages of the principal South Korean tabloids.

One story in particular that is raising curiosity is his choice of vehicle for getting from place to place. South Korean media widely reported that the Pope requested the smallest South Korean car during his visit, noted the Associated Press. He got Kia’s second-smallest model, apparently because it provides more leg room than other compact cars.

The name of the model? The Soul.

"Francis’ frugality and humble demeanor have received wide coverage in South Korea, a fiercely competitive country that celebrates ostentatious displays of status and wealth," wrote AP." After the conclusion of arrival ceremonies at the airport, the Pope "climbed into the backseat of the boxy Kia Soul, rolled down the window and waved. Surrounded by a few bigger black sedans, the Pope’s compact car headed toward Seoul."

Many South Koreans would consider too humble a conveyance for a globally powerful figure, said the wire service.

Most local newspaper articles recall the fact that it’s been 25 years since the last papal visit to this country, they provide details of the Pope’s four-day schedule and itinerary, and seem to take special delight in quoting statistics and numbers relating to this trip. Here are a few examples:

  • 180,000 hosts have been prepared for distribution at the Masses along with 300,000 bottles of water to help the faithful cope with the heat.
  • 1,700 buses are converging on the event sites from all over Korea, bringing with them some 100,000 pilgrims and over 100 Bishops.
  • 30,000 police men and women have been charged with maintaining security, assisted by around 5,000 volunteers, Catholic and non.
  • 2,800 journalists representing every possible medium are covering the visit which will see the Pope travelling a total of 1,000 kilometres.

A particularly interesting editorial invites the nation to express a “mea culpa," as the headline suggests (yes, in Latin, with Korean characters, of course). The author lists the country’s ills and hopes Pope Francis will see fit to “absolve” Korea for its failure to address (among other things) political and social divisions, for what it calls “the generational conflict," not to mention the unresolved division between North and South.

Several papers express great expectations for what they hope will be Pope Francis’s words and gestures towards the poor and disabled, in favour of peace and reconciliation, against discrimination and injustice, and in encouraging young people and renewal in the Church.

This may seem like an awful lot to be putting on the Pope’s plate but, in the words of one Korean journalist, his visit to this country is “the only good news in a long time." Trademark yellow ribbons, shrines and banners all over the country testify to how much the nation is still in shock over the Sewol tragedy in May, when a 480-foot ferry boat capsized killing over 300 people, many of them high-school kids on a field trip.    

Wherever the Pope goes, the hopes for healing—both spiritual and physical—go with him.

KoreaPope Francis
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