Pope John Paul II´s love for Korean Catholics was commemorated at a recent gathering by recalling his words and actions during two visits to South Korea.
The Catholic Lay Apostolate Council of Korea organized the April 6 memorial recollection in Seoul under the title "I´m Happy, You Should Also Be Happy."
Foreign diplomats, representatives of other religions and Church leaders including Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul and Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, retired archbishop of Seoul, joined about 450 Korean lay Catholics for the program at Coste Hall in Myongdong Cathedral.
Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, at the Vatican, after serving as pope for 27 years, the third-longest pontificate in Church history.
In his opening address, Cardinal Cheong said the late pope´s two visits to South Korea boosted Catholicism in the country. "The pope showed deep concern for the reconciliation and reunification of the divided country and visited South Korea in 1984 and 1989."
In 1984, when the South Korean Church celebrated its bicentennial anniversary, the late pope canonized 103 martyrs of the Korean Church in Seoul. During his second visit, he presided over the 44th International Eucharistic Congress, held in Seoul in 1989.
The only other Asian countries Pope John Paul visited twice were India and the Philippines.
From 1984 to 1989 the local Catholic population grew from 1,848,476 to 2,613,267. As of 2004, the latest year for which the Korean bishops have published statistics, Catholics numbered 4,537,844 in a total population of 49,052,988.
"John Paul II was the only pope who said Mass in Korean," Cardinal Kim pointed out. "The fact that the 60-year-old pontiff tried to learn Korean shows his love for Korea," he said. According to the cardinal, the televised broadcast of the canonization Mass boosted Catholicism throughout the country.
At the April 6 gathering, some Catholics recalled their encounters with the late pope.
Catherine Park Hyun-il, 30, a member of the Catholic-led Focolare Movement, met Pope John Paul at the apostolic nuncio´s residence in Seoul in 1984. "I was 7 years old and I presented a bouquet to the pope. At that time, I felt that he was a man of wit," she said.
As she got older, she came to know about him from reading books and letters written by him, she continued. "The pope´s future-oriented recognition of the value of human dignity became a model for my activities in the respect-for-life movement of young Focolarians," she added.
John Paul Shim Young-sik, now in his late 50´s, received Baptism and Confirmation from Pope John Paul when the pope visited Gwangju (Kwangju), 270 kilometers south of Seoul, on that first visit. "I cannot forget Pope John Paul II touching my cheek ... and reciting the prayers when I received the Sacraments at the Mudung Municipal Stadium in Gwangju on May 4, 1984. I felt that I was in heaven at that time," he recalled. "The glitter of his eye had the power to lead me into a new life´s journey."
Four years earlier a popular uprising in Gwangju had called for democracy in the country, then under a military government. The military quelled the uprising. A government report put the toll at 191 deaths and 852 injuries, but other reports claim the death toll may have exceeded 1,000.
In his homily the pope acknowledged "the deep wounds that pain your hearts and souls from personal experiences and from recent tragedies, which are difficult to overcome from a merely human point of view, especially for those of you from Gwangju." He added, "By accepting the consequences of our baptismal commitment, we become instruments of reconciliation and peace in the midst of dissension and hatred."
On that trip Pope John Paul also visited Sorok Island, off Korea´s south coast, the largest settlement of people with leprosy in South Korea. During his brief time there, the pope met leprosy patients. Since then, church attendance and devotion has increased among patients throughout the country.
At the end of the recollection, the Association for Souls in Purgatory of Seoul archdiocese recited the traditional Yeondo prayers for the late pontiff´s peaceful repose. Yeondo is a compilation of prayers for the dead sung and chanted using traditional Korean musical tones and rhythms.