South Korea's Asian Youth Day to focus on leaders from 30 countries

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

Simone Orendain

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Asian Youth Day, scheduled Aug. 13-17 in South Korea, is a smaller event that the international World Youth Day celebrations, said the Bangladeshi priest organizing the event.

In an email to Catholic News Service, Fr. Patrick Simon Gomes, executive secretary of the Youth Desk of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, described the event as an intimate, "private" affair with "usually [around] 2,000" people participating. The event is a contrast to the international World Youth Day, which is open to the public and usually attended by a million young people seeking an encounter with the pope.

About 30 countries will be participating in the event that is focused on formation and spiritual life, particularly for youth leaders. The program includes delving into the roots of the Catholic faith, walking in the footsteps of the martyrs and looking at modern-day persecution that young people face in practicing their faith.

This year's theme, "Asian Youth! Wake up! The glory of the martyrs shines on you" will help young people see the Korean martyrs' role in the church as an inspiration, Gomes said. The event will coincide with Pope Francis' visit to South Korea, where he was scheduled to beatify 124 Korean martyrs.

The program emphasis "will also help them to look back to their own countries and see the martyrdom in their countries in its literal sense and experience martyrdom in different forms," Gomes said.

The church in Korea is grounded in the blood of about 10,000 believers who died for their faith. It was founded in the late 1700s by laypeople who learned about the faith through Catholic writings that were translated into Chinese. Their beliefs and practices went against the Confucian-based government of the Joseon kingdom, and they were persecuted for more than 100 years.

The Philippines, which has the largest Catholic population in Asia, is sending a delegation of 100 youth and religious leaders. Fr. Conegundo Garganta, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines commission on youth, told CNS that looking to the Korean martyrs as an example will help young Filipinos affirm their faith.

"Since the faith needs to be nourished, there is a need to constantly remind us of the beauty of our faith," he said. "That faith, sometimes it has challenges ... sometimes it has truth for a believer to continue to work to restore or strengthen his or her relationship with Christ."

Apart from church leaders, dozens of volunteers were also helping with preparations for Asian Youth Day. Issac Kwon, 25, of Seoul is a volunteer liaison to international groups going to Asian Youth Day.

Kwon told CNS by phone another major component of Asian Youth Day is "bringing the leaders together to discuss about how Asian [youth] leaders can move forward together ... on how to evangelize to the Asian community, or how to reach out deeper into the Asian community and to Asian youth."

Asian Youth Day events are being hosted at locations in the Daejeon diocese about an hour and a half south of Seoul. During his visit, Pope Francis will travel from Seoul to celebrate Mass with the young people there.

Kwon said Daejeon "is the heart of where a lot of the persecution happened in Korea."

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