Updated: August 14, 2014 09:03 PM GMT
Tens of thousands watch the arrival of Pope Francis on a video screen at the Daejeon World Cup stadium, where he celebrated Mass and met families of survivors of the Sewol ferry disaster. (Photo by Steve Finch/ucanews.com)
Pope Francis appeared for the first public event of his landmark South Korea tour on Friday with more than 50,000 people packing Daejeon’s World Cup stadium for a rousing morning Mass.
Following an 11-hour flight from Rome and a hectic schedule on Thursday, the pope arrived this morning in the central provincial city of Daejeon, where tens of thousands had waited for him to appear since soon after sunrise.
The pope’s grand entrance – when it finally came at 10:30am – mixed classic pontiff with a Francis twist. Waving and smiling from his budget Kia ‘Pope-mobile’, Francis momentarily lost his papal white cap in the Daejeon breeze.
By the time he entered the stadium, the pope had regained his headgear and his composure, kissing babies on the head to gasps from the crowd.
“He’s a great man,” said Song Min-seok, 68, sitting far back in the third tier.
A local rice farmer, Song remembered watching the last papal visit by Pope John Paul II on television in 1989. He converted from Protestantism in 2000 on the advice of a friend and was here today to see in the flesh the man he described as the best pope yet.
“I can respect him because he cares about ordinary people, poor people,” said Song, wearing a pure white “El Papa” T-shirt and a Francis paper hat.
As grandmothers and teenagers recorded the first papal visit in a generation on their smartphones, the pope’s message exposed the contradictions of evangelization in a society that ranks among the most technologically advanced in the world – and the most devout.
“May the Christians of this nation be a generous force for spiritual renewal at every level of society,” he told the crowd.
“May they combat the allure of materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values, and the spirit of unbridled competition which generates selfishness and strife,” he said.
At the end of the Mass, Francis made his first public reference to the Sewol ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people off the coast of South Korea in April.
The tragedy has since united the country in grief but divided parliament as the government continues to resist a full, independent inquiry.
Between his circuit of the stadium and before appearing at the altar, the pope met eight survivors and two parents that lost children to the tragedy, one of whom he will baptize on Saturday.
“At the end of our Mass, we turn once more to Our Lady, Queen of Heaven. To her we bring all our joys, our sorrows and our hopes. We especially entrust to her all who lost their lives in the sinking of the Sewol ferry, as well as those who continue to be affected by this great national disaster,” he said.