Pope Francis arrives in S.Korea for five-day tour

Updated: 2014-08-14 13:30


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Pope Francis arrives in S.Korea for five-day tour

South Korean President Park Geun-hye (L) leads Pope Francis (C) upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam August 14, 2014.[Photo/Agencies]

SEOUL - Pope Francis arrived at South Korea on Thursday morning for his five-day tour, picking the country as his first Asian destination since he took over the post in March last year.

The pontiff arrived at an airport in Seongnam, just southeast of Seoul, at about 10:30 a.m. as scheduled. President Park Geun- hye greeted the pope at the airport along with South Korean Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung.

Some 30 rank-and-file South Korean Catholics greeted the pope, and tens of priests, diplomats and missionaries attended the meeting.

At the brief meeting with President Park, the pope said he felt heartbroken about the ferry disaster and was remembering the victims of the tragedy, noting he came here with peace on the Korean peninsula perished in his mind.

Park will hold a welcoming ceremony for the pope at the presidential office in the afternoon before holding talks with him and jointly delivering speeches.

It was the pope's first trip to Asia since he assumed the papacy in March 2013. It also marked the first papal visit to South Korea in 25 years.

On Friday, the pontiff will celebrate a Mass on the Assumption of Mary at a soccer stadium in the central city of Daejeon, before meeting with students who survived the ferry sinking disaster, and the bereaved families.

The ferry Sewol capsized and sank off the southwestern coast on April 16, leaving more than 300 people, mostly high school students, dead or missing.

Family members of the victims are staging a hunger strike for the passage of a special bill to determine the cause of the accident at the Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, where the pope will lead a Mass to beautify 124 South Korean martyrs on Saturday.

The 77-year-old will visit Kkotdongne, a rehabilitation center for the disabled in Eumseong, some 130 km south of Seoul, on Saturday.

On Monday, the final day of his trip, the pope will preside over a Mass for peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula at Myeongdong Cathedral in central Seoul.

During the Mass, the pontiff was expected to deliver a message of peace on the divided peninsula and East Asia.

Several groups of South Koreans, who were isolated and suffering from social disputes, were invited to the Mass. Those included comfort women, a euphemism for Korean women forced into sex slavery at the Japanese military brothel during World War II.

Also included were laid-off workers of Ssangyong Motor and residents of the southeastern city of Miryang who are protesting against the state-run power supplier's plan to build high-voltage transmission towers.

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