DANGJIN: Pope Francis warned yesterday of a “cancer” of despair in materially obsessed, outwardly affluent societies and urged South Korean Catholics to reject “inhumane economic models” in a stark message to wealthier Asian nations.
In an apparent reference to South Korea’s high suicide rate he also warned 45,000 people at a mass in a World Cup stadium in Daejeon of the “culture of death” that can pervade countries where the quest for rapid growth marginalises the poor and vulnerable.
The message, delivered on the first papal visit to the region in 15 years, was designed to resonate not just with South Koreans, but in other dynamic Asian economies where many are beginning to question the social consequences of rapid growth and rampant consumerism.
And he returned to the theme later in the day in an address to a gathering of 10,000 young Asian Catholics, when he spoke of the “idolatory of wealth, power and pleasure” and its unacceptably high human cost.
“It is almost as though a spiritual desert is beginning to spread through our world. It affects the young too, robbing them of hope and even, in all too many cases, of life itself,” he said.
The mass in Daejeon, some 160 kilometres south of Seoul, was the pope’s first public event following his arrival in Seoul on Thursday, which nuclear-armed North Korea marked by firing a series of short-range rockets into the sea.
The North rejected accusations that it had timed the launches to upstage the visit by the “so-called Pope.”
Among the capacity crowd in the stadium were 38 survivors and relatives of victims of April’s Sewol ferry tragedy in which 300 people died, most of them schoolchildren.
Pope Francis offered a special prayer for the dead and their families and, before the mass, held a brief private audience with some of the relatives.
“I’m a Protestant but I believe the papal visit will help heal the wounds from the Sewol disaster,” Kim Hyeong-Ki, a father of one of the victims, said.
The ferry tragedy has largely been blamed on a corrupt culture of regulatory negligence that placed profit over safety.