Francis to Korean bishops: 'Be one with the poor'

This story appears in the Francis in Korea feature series. View the full series.
Pope Francis addressing Korean bishops (CNS photo)
Pope Francis addressing Korean bishops (CNS photo)

by Thomas C. Fox

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   SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA -- A visibly animated Pope Francis came out strong on his first day in South Korea, telling its bishops that solidarity with the poor must be seen as “the essential element of the Christian life.”

   His words were uncompromising. This solidarity, he said, “must penetrate the hearts and minds of the faithful and be reflected in every aspect of ecclesial life.”

 “The apostolic ideal of  ‘a Church of and for the poor’ found eloquent expression in the first Christian communities of your nation,” Francis reminded the bishops. “I pray that this ideal will continue to shape the pilgrim path of the Church in Korea as she looks to the future.”

    Some church observers here say the Korean bishops, reflecting some of the more conservative episcopal appointments of recent years, as well Confucian values that stress hierarchy, have lost contact with the poor. However, they say one visible exception is Bishop Peter Kang U-il, the conference president. As bishop of the diocese of Jeju, an island upon which the South Korean government is building a highly unpopular naval base to port US Naval warships, Kang has been very active in local protests. As current Korean bishops' conference president, Kang is playing an especially public role during the Francis trip here.

   Said Francis to the bishops: “I am convinced that if the face of the Church is first and foremost a face of love, more and more young people will be drawn to the heart of Jesus ever aflame with divine love in the communion of his mystical body.”

    He met them late in the afternoon on the first day of his five-day trip here

Earlier in the afternoon he met privately with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

   Perhaps with an eye on what will be his first full day in South Korea, meetings with young Koreans during Asian Youth Day, Francis encouraged the bishops to offer fresh hope to the young.  

   He said that being “guardians of hope” means ensuring “the prophetic witness of the Church in Korea remains evident in its concern for the poor and in its programs of outreach, particularly to refugees and migrants and those living on the margins of society.”

   Francis said these concerns must go beyond charitable initiatives and into the “work of social, occupational and educational promotion.”

  “We can risk reducing our work with those in need to its institutional dimension alone, while overlooking each individual’s need to grow as a person and to express in a worthy manner his or her own personality, creativity and culture.”

 “A prophetic witness to the Gospel represents particular challenges to the Church in Korea,” Francis said, “since she carries out her life and ministry amid a prosperous, yet increasingly secularized and materialistic society. “

He warned the bishops not to be tempted to pattern their pastoral ministries on models management drawn from the business world or “a lifestyle and mentality guided more by worldly criteria of success, and indeed power, than by the criteria which Jesus sets out in the Gospel.”

I urge you and your brother priests to reject this temptation in all its forms. May we be saved from that spiritual and pastoral worldliness, which stifles the Spirit, replaces conversion by complacency, and, in the process, dissipates all missionary fervor.”

Fox is NCR publisher and can be reached at

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