The pope's meeting with the participants of Asian Youth Day.
"Hope." This is the word that Pope Francis repeated most from the moment he landed in South Korea. It was also the focus of his meeting with young people in Asia, who on Friday held their sixth continental Youth Day.
The words that the Holy Father addressed to the 6,000 Catholic boys and girls from 22 Asian countries who participated in this meeting from August 13 to 17 became a real alternative to suicide, one of the scourges that is most widespread in more advanced industrialized Asian societies, particularly in Korea.
The causes of suicide
South Korea, the new Asian dragon, homeland of Samsung, has particularly high suicide rates compared to industrialized countries on other continents.
Among the 29,501 suicides that occurred between 2009 and 2010 in Korea, according to research conducted in the country, the causes were psychological despair (28.8%, 8,489 cases), physical pain (22.6%, 6,672), economic difficulties and unemployment (15.9%, 4,690) and family problems (11.4%, 3,363).
In the cases of young people, the most common cause is linked to academic failure, in particular the famous and demanding Korean entrance examination to college.
A 2008 study on the causes of suicide in South Korea by Ben Park and David Lester, published by Hong Kong University Press, explains that "cultural tradition and filial obligation are not consistent with the specialized and increasingly more competitive labor market of the modern era."
In South Korea it is traditional for children to care for their parents when they get old or sick. In the modern economy, it is more difficult, so there are many cases of elderly or ill people who commit suicide to avoid becoming a burden for their children.
Koreans have the longest working hours in the world, and their calendar has the fewest holidays. In these circumstances, the family is penalized, and the proposal of love and fidelity that the Church promotes is increasingly admired in Korean society.
The Pope’s concern
In the Pope’s address to young people, he acknowledged that "we are concerned about the growing inequality between rich and poor in our society."
"We see signs of the idolatry of wealth, power, and pleasure, obtained at a very high price for human life. Near us, many of our friends and peers, even in the midst of great material prosperity, will suffer from spiritual poverty, loneliness, and quiet desperation," he said.
"It seems as if God has been removed from this world. It is like a spiritual desert is spreading everywhere. It also affects young people, robbing them of hope and in many cases, even of life itself," he said.
The situation taking place in South Korea explains the stupendous reception that young Koreans are offering the Pope and the fact that many of the figures that the youth most admire have been baptized in recent years. Among the youth who met with the Pope on Friday were, for example, the Korean pop queen BoA.
Other performers in the show, like the singer and actor Rain, have also converted to Catholicism.
In a society determined by Confucianism and its social system in which women and the lower classes have very little, the Pope showed the youth how Christ makes every man and woman a child of God, without any discrimination.
He told them, "Dear young people, at this time the Lord is counting on you." And he asked them, "Are you willing to say ‘yes’? Are you ready?" A unanimous "yes," accompanied by applause, was the response he got from the youth.
The Pope then wanted to visibly show the brotherhood that Christ brings. He spoke to them in a personal way. He laid aside the papers, the speech he had been reading in English, and improvised in Italian to express himself better (Cf. Pope Francis and his one on one with young Asians ). He did so with the help of a priest as a translator, and with the questions that three young people had submitted at the beginning of the meeting.
This is the liberating force that Christianity brings to Korea and now the Pope wants to spread it throughout Asia, where Christians make up only 6.5% of the population.
Jesús Colinais CEO and editorial director of Aleteia. This article originally appeared in Aleteia’s Spanish edition.