Three reasons why Francis to visit South Korea

Globetrotter on mission

Francis's trip to South Korea in August provides an opportunity to tick three boxes at once, writes John Allen in The Boston Globe.

Although Pope Francis has said he doesn’t really like to travel, he’s set to log some serious kilometres in 2014. He’s already bound for Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan in May, and on Monday the Vatican announced the Pontiff will also visit South Korea August 14-18.

Popes receive more invitations to travel than they can possibly accommodate, so they have to be selective. They make outings which underscore their priorities or allow them to make specific points.

In the case of Korea, the trip provides Francis a chance to accomplish three things at once. First, Francis is paying off an old debt left behind by Pope Benedict XVI.

The German Pontiff made 24 trips outside Italy during his eight-year reign, including two to Latin America and two to Africa, but never made it to Asia. The closest Benedict came was during his four outings to the Middle East.

Any pope would probably consider an Asia swing mandatory under those circumstances, but the first Pope in history from the developing world probably feels a special obligation.

Second, the Korea outing allows Francis to acknowledge the dramatic growth of Catholicism across Asia and to say 'thank you' for the critical contribution being made to Catholic fortunes today by Asian believers.

During the 20th century, Catholicism grew from 1.2 per cent to 3 per cent of Asia’s overall population, meaning the Church more than doubled its 'market share.' The number of Catholics in India alone went from under two million to 17 million, and should reach 26 million by 2050. In another Asian Catholic powerhouse, the Philippines, there were more baptisms in 2012 than in France, Spain, Italy and Poland combined.

In Korea, Catholicism has grown by roughly 70 per cent during the last decade, to more than five million people representing about ten percent of the national population.

It’s commonplace in Catholic circles today to say that Filipinos in particular are the 'new Irish,' meaning an intensely Catholic culture whose people are going abroad in droves in search of opportunity and carrying the faith with them.

It’s tough to find any Catholic jurisdiction in either North America or Europe today where a growing share of priests don’t hail from either the Philippines or India, and, to a lesser extent, from other Asian nations such as Korea, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Vietnam.

The official reason for Francis’ presence in Korea is a gathering of Asian youth, which means the trip is addressed to the entire continent. In effect, it’s a chance for the Pontiff to flash a thumbs-up to a region upon which Catholicism is increasingly reliant.

Third, because Francis plans to beatify 124 Korean martyrs during his stop in the country, the trip also gives him a chance to raise consciousness on one of his emerging social themes: Anti-Christian persecution in the early 21st century.

FULL STORY Why the pope has chosen to visit South Korea (Ucanews)

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