SEOUL, South Korea — A former Korean ambassador to the Holy See spoke of the effects of Pope Francis’ recent visit to South Korea, saying that all of Asia now feels a long-term challenge to imitate his humble ways.
“All the media in Korea are already speaking of ‘Francis syndrome,’” former ambassador Thomas Han told CNA Aug. 26.
“The Korean people, having been deeply impressed by Pope Francis’ person and his lifestyle, seriously reflect upon the meaning of their lives and seek to see the things in life that really matter.”
Han explained that leaders “at every level of society” now feel an “unspoken pressure to make their own the leadership style the Korean people have witnessed in Pope Francis.”
“Therefore, it is safe to say that such ‘Francis syndrome’ will surely serve as a momentum for the Koreans to promote the culture of love, thereby contributing to authentic humanization of the Korean Peninsula in the long term.”
Pope Francis traveled to Seoul, South Korea Aug. 14-18, where he met with youth participating in the 6th Asian Youth Day, as well as with government officials, local Church leaders and heads of other faith traditions.
Marking the first time in 25 years since a pope has visited the peninsula, the voyage, Han said, has had an impact on the entire Asian continent, particularly the youth, who were touched by the Pope’s heart-to-heart way of communicating, and those affected by the Sewol ferry disaster that happened earlier this spring.
With the presence of Pope Francis in their midst, Koreans “were excited to verify what they had heard about him through the media,” Han observed.
“In a word, Pope Francis has at last satisfied their quenchless thirst for true leadership. His coherence between words and actions, his simple lifestyle, his humility, the way he embraced the poor, the disabled, the outcasts greatly impressed them.”
It is rumored that following the Pope’s visit, many in Korea are now beginning to purchase the compact Kia Soul he chose to pick him up from the airport, following his request to have the smallest car possible.
As the smallest car in Korea, the vehicle was considered unsuitable for such a globally significant figure, and left many chuckling when they saw the Holy Father drive away in the boxy car.
What the Korean people saw in the Pope was “a witness to hope,” the former ambassador explained. “The hope that with the leadership of Pope Francis the world can be made a better place to live in.”
Speaking on the particular impact Pope Francis made on the Asian youth, Han noted that they viewed him as the Good Shepherd who came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.”
“They have been excited to be with Pope Francis who rekindled the very special love that had been displayed by Christ toward the young man in the Gospel” and who “launched them as leading actors in humanization and evangelization of society.”
Drawing attention to how the Asian continent currently is home to more than 60% of the world’s population, Han noted that along with this number come “flagrant inequalities” both in terms of one’s possessions, as well as in the exercise of political power.
“More than half of the 900 million absolute poor in the world who survive on less than $1.25 a day are in Asia,” he stated, observing also how “Women experience a very low level of gender equality in the world” and “the deprivation of the right to life of the unborn child is widespread.”
Going on, Han observed that many “are denied the right to religious freedom” and that “cultural and religious diversity sometimes leads even to animosity and conflict between peoples.” He also pointed out current threats to peace, including increasing militarization and continuous environmental pollution.
“It is thus timely for Pope Francis to come to encourage the Catholic Church in Asia to strengthen its efforts to humanize and evangelize the Asian continent facing such realities,” he said.
Noting the significance of choosing Korea for his first trip to Asia, the former ambassador explained that Pope Francis’ presence in a country suffering division for 70 years signifies that he came “to Korea and to Asia as Pontiff, that is, as a builder of bridges with God and between peoples.”
He came “as apostle of true peace, to encourage the Catholics and all the other Asians to dialogue and work together to overcome all the inhuman situations that occur on the Continent to build a more equitable society, a more stable peace in the world.”
In this context, Pope Francis’ visit represents “a challenge to Korea as a nation and the Catholic Church therein to assume a greater role in pursuing authentic human development of peoples in Asia as well as in the Korean Peninsula,” Han observed.
“Both Korea and the Catholic Church well deserve to play such a role and [are] ready to embrace such a challenge,” he said. “The Pope’s visit will stimulate the ongoing renewal of the Catholic Church’s determination to take the lead in evangelization of Asia as well as the Korean Peninsula.”
At the same time, he continued, it will serve ”as an effective catalyst to Korea’s constant willingness to assume its own responsibility for the humanization of Asia as well as the Korean Peninsula by promoting the culture of love, justice and peace.”