Updated: December 18, 2014 09:07 PM GMT
Pope Francis greets an Indonesian youth delegate at an Asian Youth Day event in Dangjin on Friday. (AFP photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Pope Francis on Friday met some 6,000 delegates to Asian Youth Day 2014 in Dangjin before visiting the shrine of Solmoe – the birthplace of Korean Catholicism – where Korea’s first priest and many other martyrs were killed.
Francis watched as AYD delegates performed music and theatrical events, including a dramatization of the parable of the prodigal son, directed by members of the Diocese of Cheju (Jeju).
In addition, the pope listened to speeches by three young delegates. A Cambodian youth invited him to visit the country to beatify the martyrs killed by the Khmer Rouge.
A young Hong Kong man speaking in Cantonese asked about what could be done for Catholics on the mainland and suggested that there should be a World Youth Day held in Hong Kong.
A third youth from Korea spoke about her feelings of dismay in a society where competition between people seemed limitless and where money and material success were like idols. She also asked for the pope’s help in resolving the division with North Korea.
During an address to the youth delegates that followed, the pope offered words of consolation and exhortation, lamenting that the world looks more and more like a “spiritual desert” and urging them to stay “awake and alert” and to seek out those who suffer from spiritual poverty.
Straying from his script and speaking in Italian in response to issues raised by the three delegates, Pope Francis assured the audience that there was hope for the reunification of the Korean peninsula and asked them to pray with him in silence for that purpose.
“You speak the same language, and you think about your brothers in the North. When a family speaks the same language, there is also a human hope,” he said following the prayer.
Pope Francis also assured the Cambodian delegate that he would look into issues of canonization related to Cambodia, which has no beatifications or canonizations.
Though not mentioned by the pope in his speech, a cause for beatification is currently under way for Bishop Joseph Chhmar Salas, named coadjutor of Phnom Penh on April 6, 1975 at the age of 38, and whom the Khmer Rouge killed in September 1977.
In his speech in English, Pope Francis echoed the theme of Asian Youth Day in calling on young Asian Catholics to be missionaries to the world in light of the “heroic witness of the martyrs”, whose sacrifice should not only be an object of memory but an aid for a personal encounter with Christ.
“Today, Christ is knocking at the door of your heart. He calls you to get up, stay awake and alert, and to see the things in life that are really important,” he said.
“Around us, so many of the people your age – even if they live in a world of great material prosperity – suffer from spiritual poverty, loneliness and quiet desperation,” he said.
Turning to the theme of the parable of the prodigal son, Pope Francis urged his audience to “never lose hope” and exhorted the priests and bishops to “embrace sinners” and “be merciful”.
“God never tires of forgiving.”
This article appears courtesy of Églises d’Asie, the information agency of the Paris Foreign Missions. Translated and edited from the original French, it is published here by permission.