By You Jin Kim
DAEJEON, Aug. 15 (Yonhap) -- Tens of thousands of South Koreans greeted Pope Francis on Friday at a soccer stadium in the central city of Daejeon, as the Catholic leader led his first public Mass in the country during his five-day visit and connected with locals.
The Daejeon World Cup Stadium was bursting with some 50,000 adherents as well as nonbelievers who gathered for the Mass of the Assumption of Mary, a major feast held to commemorate the Virgin Mary's ascension into heaven.
Service participants vigorously waved South Korean and Vatican City flags while shouting "Viva il Papa," Italian words meaning "Long live the pope," as the Holy Father entered the jam-packed stadium in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul.
Those who were unable to secure a seat inside the venue lined up outside to get a glimpse of the pontiff as he was driven through the crowd so they wouldn't miss out on this rare chance to see him in person.
Meeting as many people as he could in the white open-top car, Pope Francis occasionally stopped for several infants who were brought forward and stroked their heads with warm affection.
As is typical of His Holiness, Francis momentarily climbed out of the car to speak with local participants and "offered words of comfort to those in need," according to the event's host.
The roaring wave of people fell silent as soon as the Mass began, and the audience was engrossed in the pope's messages of hope and condolence for those in suffering.
After celebrating two hours of Mass and giving an Angelus prayer, Francis moved to a university in the same city for a luncheon with some 20 people participating in an Asian Catholic youth festival.
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