Pope urges South Korean faithful to shun materialism

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Aug. 15 (Yonhap) -- Pope Francis called Friday on Korean Catholics to combat materialism and limitless competition and pay more attention to the society's poor, needy and vulnerable.

"May they combat the allure of a materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values and the spirit of unbridled competition which generates selfishness and strife," the pope said in his Italian-language homily during a Mass on the feast day of the Assumption of Mary.

During the Mass held at a packed stadium in the central city of Daejeon, the pope also urged the country to reject "inhumane economic models which create new forms of poverty and marginalize workers," and "the culture of death" which violates the dignity of all mankind.

"As Korean Catholics, heirs to a noble tradition, you are called to cherish this legacy and transmit it to future generations. This will demand of everyone a renewed conversion to the word of God and a passionate concern for the poor, the needy and the vulnerable in our midst," he said.

The Holy Father had a few minutes before the Mass to meet survivors and family members of the victims who lost their loved ones in the April 16 ferry sinking that left 294 people dead and 10 others missing. Most of the victims were high school students on a field trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.

Some 50,000 Catholic believers and non-believers attended the Assumption Day Mass, which marks the pope's first public appearance during his five-day visit to South Korea that began on Thursday.

The religious holiday, which falls on Aug. 15, commemorates the death of the Virgin Mary and her bodily ascension into heaven.

Renowned South Korean soprano Jo Sumi and popular pop singer Insooni, both Catholics, performed before the Mass.

The pontiff originally planned to take a helicopter to the site of the Mass but abruptly changed the plan to take a KTX bullet train for unknown reasons, surprising hundreds of travelers aboard.

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."

In the afternoon, the pope is scheduled to meet and address participants in the sixth Asian Youth Day at the Solmoe Holy Ground, the birthplace of Korea's first priest, Kim Tae-gon, in the western port city of Dangjin.

Some 6,000 young Catholics from 22 Asian countries, including South Korea, China and Japan, are participating in the festival, which runs Aug. 13-17.

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