Pope Francis will encounter a vibrant but divided Korean church. 'There are actually two churches here,' said Columban Father Pat Cunningham, 'the Church of the bishops and the Church of the progressive minority', reports NCR Online.
At the centre of this division is how Korean Catholics should engage society and how Catholics should respond to the needs of the poor and the marginalised, especially those displaced by the rapid social and economic change that has occurred here in the past two decades.
Church fractures are not uncommon. However, the division between Korean bishops and Catholic activists has grown as more conservative bishops have been appointed during the past three decades and Catholic activists have become more vocal. The division between these groups has surfaced in recent months as planning for the papal trip has gone forward.
Pope Francis' five-day itinerary is the product of a committee of Korean bishops who collaborated with government and Vatican officials. From the viewpoint of the Korean bishops, the papal visit is intended to encourage Korean Catholics, linking past, present and future.
The two most visible papal events will be the time Francis spends with young people at Asian Youth Day and his beatification of 124 martyrs who died for their faith in the 18th and 19th centuries. The president of the preparatory committee, the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, has said that the papal trip, by focusing on Church martyrs, will 'lift up to the Gospel values' they died for.
'In the life of martyrdom, we can discover true peace and reconciliation,' Bishop Peter U-il Kang of Cheju said. For their parts, Catholic activists, including lay leaders, religious and priests, also cite the Gospels, saying their distinctly radical call for justice and service to the needy are missing in the papal itinerary.