Pope opts out of chopper to take train to Mass

SEOUL, Aug. 15 (Yonhap) -- Scrapping his plans to take a helicopter to his first public Mass in South Korea, Pope Francis on Friday surprised hundreds of travelers by taking a local bullet train to Daejeon, the service's host city.

The pontiff was seen boarding a KTX train at Seoul Station around 8:45 a.m. and arriving at Daejeon Station in the namesake city about 160 kilometers south of Seoul 50 minutes later.

He celebrated the Mass of the Assumption of Mary, which marks the Virgin Mary's rise to heaven, at a football stadium in the city.

Francis rode in the fourth car of the train, in a first-class seat closest to the economy seats, while the other three VIP cars were left empty for security purposes.

More than 500 people were on board the train, which skipped all the stops before Daejeon.

The reason behind the last-minute change was not immediately clear, but Hur Young-yup, spokesman for the organizing committee of the papal visit, said it may not have been all due to fog.

"My understanding is that it was not entirely due to the weather," he told reporters in a daily briefing. "I'd need to double-check why the pope decided against his original plans, but it's true that he would have more opportunities to meet the locals on KTX."

The spokesman added that it was not uncommon for the Holy Father to take the train.

"The helicopter is his default means of transit because it is fast and safe, but the pontiff also considers other options, like the train, if taking them would allow him to arrive on schedule," Hur explained.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>