Pope urges Asian youth to keep their faith and national identity

Exhorts delegates to build a 'closer, more humble Church'
Pope urges Asian youth to keep their faith and national identity

Pope Francis addresses youth delegates during the closing Mass of Asian Youth Day 2014 in Haemi on Sunday. (Photo by Steve Finch/ucanews.com)

Pope Francis urged thousands of young Asians to keep the faith without losing their national identity on Sunday at the end of one of the most culturally diverse youth days ever witnessed by a pontiff.

During a rainy finale in Haemi, a town of Christian martyrs, the pope called on young people from more than 25 countries to “wake up” and build a closer, more humble Church.

“As young people not only in Asia but also as sons and daughters of this great continent, you have a right and a duty to take full part in the life of your societies,” Francis said in his homily for the closing Mass of Asian Youth Day.

“Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life.” 

The pope’s message echoed what he told bishops earlier, a difficult balancing act aimed at bolstering the faithful and spreading the faith in Asia without further alienating regimes that rank among the most anti-Church in the World.

“As Asians… you see and love, from within, all that is beautiful, noble and true in your cultures and traditions. Yet as Christians, you also know that the Gospel has the power to purify, elevate and perfect this heritage,” he said.

China and North Korea in particular have shown their irritation in recent years at what they perceive as the Western ideological threat posed by Christianity.

Before the Asia Youth Day mass, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope was keen to build bridges with Beijing in particular as relations remain strained over which has authority in ordinations – the pope or the Chinese government.

Although China has reportedly tried to stop lay Christians and priests from coming to South Korea for the pope’s landmark first visit to the region, there were again Chinese present in Haemi on Sunday.

A small group who said they were from Beijing and other cities across the country asked that their pictures not be taken for fear of retribution by the authorities when they return home.

Participants from other countries where Christianity remains restricted – and that still do not have formal relations with the Vatican – also took part.

Siriphone Nirasday from socialist Laos said the main obstacle she faced coming was from immigration officials concerned she may try to work illegally in South Korea, a popular destination for poor migrants from across the region.

“Sometimes it can be hard [being Catholic in Laos], sometimes it’s okay – we have few Catholics,” she said of her majority Buddhist country.

Although Asia is home to 70 percent of the World’s population – many in their 20s or younger – still just over three percent are Catholic.

South Korea and China remain among just a handful of countries in the region where Catholic numbers are growing steadily.

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The Vatican hopes papal trips including to South Korea, and early next year to the Philippines and Sri Lanka, will help spread faith further in the region: the current visit has been well received by Catholics and most non-Catholics ahead of Francis’ departure on Monday.

“After these five days in Korea we have rekindled our passion for the Gospel,” the head of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Mumbai Archbishop Oswald Gracias, told the young crowd in Haemi.

“Thank you Korea, God bless you.”

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