Korean paper: 'We were intoxicated under a holy spell'

This story appears in the Francis in Korea feature series. View the full series.

by Thomas C. Fox

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Like a fine wine, the aftertaste in Seoul, South Korea has been overwhelmingly positive in the three days since Pope Francis left following his five-day pastoral visit.  The media has been aglow with praise.

Francis touched the hearts of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, believers and non-believers as well.

One example, an essay a professed atheist, professor of sociology at Seoul National University, Song Ho-keun, wrote in the Korean JoongAng Daily. Staff the JoongAng translated Song’s essay into English.

“We were intoxicated under a holy spell over the last several days while we had Pope Francis with us here in Korea. It was like coming to the bosom of home after an arduous journey. Troubles drifted away, pains diminished and the world looked peaceful and worthy of living,” wrote Song. “The pope’s visit touched even an atheist like me.”

“Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the Southern Hemisphere, makes it a point to reach out to the poor, vulnerable and weak. He is a humble holy figure who dispels the obliviousness of today’s world and allows it to see the true essence of things. Unlike hermit sages who forsook the world for self-realization, he mingles in the heart of the world traveling the streets with a beaming smile and comforting gestures.”

Of Francis, Song wrote: “He is tough in condemning the greed and injustice of capitalist materialism. Even the sharpest and most critical intellectuals were humbled by his spiritual message that allowed no historical or political interpretations. The leader that commands 1.2 billion believers around the world was consistently modest in his demeanor. We were enthralled as we followed his simple yet inspirational path that led to the hearts of everyday people. He touched and released the masked and inexplicable frustration and pains of every heart in this land.”

With a hint of sadness at Francis’ departure, Song goes on to say, “Today is no different from any other day except that the healer has gone, leaving us enormous tasks to solve amongst ourselves. It is as if he has shown us the way and said, ‘Friends, now be about your business on your own!’ His Masses produced unprecedented scenes of the bringing together of all the discarded and overlooked pains and conflicts weighing over our society: families living in mourning and disbelief after losing their children in the Sewol ferry sinking, residents of the southeastern provincial area of Miryang who have been protesting vainly against a power utility’s plan to run high-voltage power lines through their neighborhood, the fishing village of Gangjeong in Jeju demonstrating against the construction of naval base, laid off Ssangyong Motor workers, and aged comfort women who still wait for a sincere apology from the Japanese.” 

“We must repay the pope for paying attention to our neglected and giving them the enormous support and comfort they had been missing from their own people. The pope left us with the tough-love message that we must care for and defend one another with the same focus and perseverance that has kept this land viable despite history’s shower of invasions, oppressions and sufferings to fight today’s challenge and pains.”

“Many have offered words of peace and hope to the people of this land. But none were as moving as the language the pope used. His speech and writings came across more sweetly and beautiful because they came from a person humble in every way. A father of a teenager lost in the sunken Sewol who is on a hunger strike demanding a thorough investigation of the tragedy wept in the bosom of the pope. The pontiff selectively reached out and touched the unemployed, the weary youth in futile search for jobs, the abandoned elderly and disabled. As he blessed the pained and afflicted, every man and woman on this land shared the blessing and atonement. That was why we felt so calm, safe and happy in his presence.”

Concludes the professor asking: “How have we become so vulnerable, yearning, and emotional before a papal visitor? Why did we need his words to console and forgive ourselves?”

“We were barren and hungry because we received none of those comforts from our own politicians, religious leaders and intellectuals. Pope Francis preached peace and reconciliation to this divided people and sundered land. He urged us to unite to heal our own scars from divisions. No one else can do the actual healing and saving. That is our own undertaking. We were awakened and shown the way. Whether we heed his words or not is up to us.”

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