Seoul, South Korea — Hundreds of Catholic faithful and non-Catholic admirers of Pope Francis braved the pouring rain to try to get a glimpse of him outside his final Mass before he left South Korea.
On a street in the popular shopping district of Myongdong, in downtown Seoul, people jostled each other with umbrellas. A video monitor was set up, but it faced just one side of the block. The bystanders were all hoping for a glimpse of Pope Francis at the end of the Mass Monday for peace and reconciliation, when he was expected to pass by in a covered vehicle in the downpour.
Joanna Seo and her family sang along to a Korean hymn about reconciliation as they stood in a circle watching the Mass on a wireless device. She told Catholic News Service she was grateful for a chance to see "Papa Francesco."
"I am a very grateful Christian because I think this is [a] very big issue in Korea," said Seo, 23. "I [would be] very happy if North and South Korea become one."
The two sides have been at odds for more than 60 years since their country was carved in half by communist and non-communist factions.
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In communist North Korea, the state-run Catholic Association is not part of the Vatican hierarchy. Organizers of the pope's visit to South Korea had invited people from the association but they declined, citing joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea that started the same day as the papal Mass.
The Mass also drew non-Catholics who stood on the sidewalk listening to the celebration over a loudspeaker, then hung around to watch the pope drive away.
Michael Suhany, who describes himself as a Reformed Baptist from Warsaw, Ind., stopped en route to his teaching job. He told CNS seeing Pope Francis would be a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.
"I appreciate the impact that the Catholic church has around the world," said Suhany, who lives just outside Seoul. "And in particular, what this pope stands for, I think, is very important for Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant alike."
Julia Kim beckoned a reporter to take shelter under her big umbrella. She said she was waiting outside the cathedral so she could "say goodbye to him, and I want to pray for him."
Kim told CNS she was among the 800,000 faithful who attended the beatification Mass of 124 martyrs Saturday. She said on the week before Pope Francis' visit, she traveled some 85 miles south to Haemi Fortress, the site of the persecution of thousands of Catholics in the 18th and 19th centuries, just to pray for him. On Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated the closing Mass for Asian Youth Day at the fortress.
When the pope's convoy approached, Kim crossed herself, put her hand on her heart and waved. Once it was out of sight, she crossed herself again.