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PM vows support for papal visit to Seoul


SEOUL, Jan. 21 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Chung Hong-won vowed Tuesday to extend support for the Roman Catholic Church's push for Pope Francis to visit South Korea, his office said.

Chung made the remarks during a meeting with the country's newly appointed cardinal, Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, to offer congratulations for his promotion to the rank of cardinal-priest.

Earlier this month, the 71-year-old archbishop of Seoul was named as a new cardinal by Pope Francis, becoming the country's third-ever cardinal after late Stephen Kim Sou-hwan (1922-2009) and Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk.

"The government will willingly support the case," Chung told the cardinal who asked for support in pursuing and preparing for the papal visit.

Chung also eased concerns that Yeom expressed over time constraints in preparing for the envisioned visit later this year, saying the church will "do it well."

The Catholic Church of Korea said it requested last year that Pope Francis visit the country and has been receiving positive feedback from the Vatican.

Sources say the papal visit could occur sometime in August or October, when two major Catholic events of the Sixth Asian Youth Day event and a ceremony to beatify 124 Korean Catholic martyrs are planned.

If Pope Francis makes the trip, it would be the first visit from a pope since 1989 when Pope John Paul the Second visited here.

Chung also asked the new cardinal for his "efforts for peace and healing of the society," and Yeom pledged to play a mediating role, according to Chung's office.

South Korea has a Catholic community of more than 5 million, a sizable portion of its nearly 49-million population whose religious heritage is largely based on Buddhism.

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