Pope Francis Korea Visit: North No to Seoul Mass, Families of Ferry Victims in South Refuse to De-Tent Gwanghwamun Square

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | August 7, 2014 10:54 AM EST

Authorities from North Korea's Catholic association had rejected an invitation to attend a mass led by Pope Francis next week, as families of Sewol ferry victims in the South refused to de-tent Gwanghwamun Square, the venue of the pope's mass. Pope Francis is expected in South Korea from August 14th to the 18th.


Pope Francis talks to reporters aboard the papal flight on his way back to the Vatican from Jerusalem May 26, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Medichini

The mass at Myeongdong Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Seoul, will occur on the last day of Pope Francis' visit.

According to the Catholic Church in South Korea, its northern counterpart declined the spiritual invitation because the South and the U.S. are scheduled to begin their annual military drills on the same day.

North Korea's Catholic association, the WSJ said, is actually a state-sanctioned entity and is not affiliated to the Vatican hierarchy. They hold their supposed religious activities inside government-controlled entities.

The military drills, held every summer, had always been regarded by Pyongyang as rehearsals for a northward invasion. Such claims had been, as expected, been habitually denied by both the South and the U.S. The routine exercises, they said, are only for defensive purposes.

Meantime, families of Sewol ferry victims in the South refused to de-tent Gwanghwamun Square where Pope Francis will hold a mass next week.

One million Korean Catholics are expected to show up and join in the huge, open-air mass on August 16.

The families have been camping out for three weeks in the area demanding the passage of a parliament legislation to allow a full, independent inquiry into the April 16 sinking tragedy of Sewol that claimed around 300 lives, mostly students.

The Sewol ferry that sank off the country's southwest coast had 476 people on board, 325 of which were teenaged students from the Danwon High School in Ansan. Only 75 of the students managed to escape and remain alive.

"We will never remove our tents here until our demands are met," Park Yong-Woo, a family member and spokesman for the protesters, told reporters. They vowed to "resist and fight back" if the police try to expel them.

The protesters had sent a letter to Pope Francis, asking for his understanding as to why they won't budge, Park said.

"Holy Father, please cry with us here together... Please pray for us and protect us from being swept off the square in the name of preparing your mass," the letter read.

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Pope Francis talks to reporters aboard the papal flight on his way back to the Vatican from Jerusalem May 26, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Medichini
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