Pope Francis visits the disabled, elderly in Kkottongnae

The pontiff also prayed at a garden memorial for aborted children
Pope Francis visits the disabled, elderly in Kkottongnae

Pope Francis prays at a memorial garden for aborted children during his visit to a rehabilitation center for the disabled and elderly in Kkottongnae. (AFP photo/Vincenzo Pinto)

Pope Francis on Saturday afternoon visited a hilltop community in Kkottongnae for the sick and disabled, spending nearly an hour among the younger members and praying at a garden memorial for aborted children.

Pope Francis spent the majority of his time at the “House of Hope”, which houses 50 children who suffer from physical or mental disabilities, and those abandoned by their parents, according to news agency I-Media.

“I’m happy to be standing,” said the pope when asked to sit down at the beginning of his visit. Visibly moved by the residents, Pope Francis greeted everyone personally by taking their hands or touching their faces.

In a society that generally views disabilities as shameful, the pope’s gestures – broadcast live on Korean news channel KBS – were symbolic and powerful.

Before his departure, the pope gave his blessing and prayed before a statue of the Virgin Mary. He turned as he was leaving the room and raised his arms above his head in the shape of a heart to express his love for the community and for Korea.

He was greeted by thousands of people in central Kkottongnae, which operates as a real village, before praying briefly at a garden memorial to aborted children filled with small white crosses.

Abortion is a massive reality in Korea, a country of 50 million where the government says about 340,000 abortions occur each year (the Catholic Church puts the number much higher at 1.5 million) and which has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world.

Some say the discrepancy exists because abortions are not covered by health insurance and most are paid for in cash and go unrecorded in official statistics.

Korean bishops regularly call on politicians to revise the Reproductive Health law of 1973, which legalized abortion in the country.

Located in the Diocese of Cheongju, Kkottongnae was founded by Father John Oh Eumseong in 1976. It now houses about 3,000 disabled and elderly people. In 1992, a second village was built in Gapyeong, which houses nearly 2,000 residents.

A third village has since been built at Ganghwado. The work has also spread abroad to Bangladesh, the Philippines, India, Uganda, Haiti and parts of North America.

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.

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