ROME — Pope Francis leaves on Wednesday for five days in South Korea, his first outing to Asia and a trip that seems almost perfectly to capture both the promise and the peril of his ambition to be a “Peace Pope.”
The pontiff is scheduled to meet government leaders and to take part in an Asian Catholic youth festival. He’ll beatify a group of Korean martyrs from the 18th and 19th centuries, giving him a chance to shine a spotlight on contemporary martyrdom from nearby North Korea to Iraq, where last week the pope named a personal representative to voice his concern for Christians and other minorities fleeing the radical Islamic forces.
Francis also will meet family members of victims of the recent Sewol shipwreck that claimed more than 300 lives, and will lay out a role for the church’s mission in Asia in a speech to bishops from the continent.
The outing poses challenges to Francis the peacemaker on multiple levels.
First is the division of Korea itself. Francis will try to send signals of openness across the DMZ that separates the peninsula, without provoking the North Korean regime. He’ll want to promote reconciliation but can’t afford to turn a blind eye to the problems in the north, including an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Christians believed to languish in forced labor camps.
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