Less than three weeks remain before Pope Francis makes his first apostolic visit to South Korea, and excitement is building among local Koreans, especially at St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang parish, Flushing.
“I’m a pope watcher,” admitted parishioner Mary Moon, who will be closely following media coverage of the trip. “This is a big event.”
First-generation Korean-American Michelle Mun, 16, wishes she could be among the young people meeting the Holy Father.
“I love Pope Francis. I respect him so much and how he expresses his opinions,” said Mun, parish youth group president.
When she visited Korea several years ago, she was impressed by the deep faith of the Catholics there. She returned with a greater sense of pride in her own faith and culture.
Catholicism Is Alive
Her hope for the Holy Father’s visit is that he will fortify the faith of Catholics and “show (the world that) Catholicism is alive in Korea.”
South Korean native Father Andrew M. Kim, pastor, noted that while the “Catholic population in Korea is the minority, the role of Catholics is big. They’re leading social justice (efforts) since the 1970s and ’80s. Priests are role models of the society.”
His hope is that the pope’s presence will strengthen the faith of those who are Catholic and serve as a witness to evangelize those who are not.
“We have great hopes for growing the Catholic faith in Korea,” he said.
For many, like Father Hee Bong Nam, parochial vicar, just being able to see two popes visit Korea in their lifetime is a “real blessing.”
He recalled that St. Pope John Paul II had a powerful effect when he went to Seoul in May, 1984, to canonize 103 Korean martyrs, including St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang. Over a million people gathered for the canonization ceremonies, and Father Nam was among them.
“That visit taught all of Korea what it means to be Catholic,” he said. “The gathering gave witness … that faith does make a difference.”
He felt that the papal visit enlivened the spirit of Catholicism three decades ago and hopes Pope Francis will have the same effect.
Given Pope Francis’ reputation for championing social justice issues, he would like to see the Holy Father “tell the Korean church to do more outreach to the marginalized and teenagers,” he said.
He’d like to see the pope encourage the faithful to move from the sidelines to the frontlines of serving their brothers and sisters.