Pope Francis calls for Koreas’ reconciliation at end of visit

Pope Francis meets with religious leaders prior to the start of a Mass of reconciliation at Seoul's main cathedral on Aug. 18.
(Gregorio Borgia / Associated Press)

Wrapping up his first trip to Asia, Pope Francis on Monday called for forgiveness and dialogue between South and North Korea, and seemed to take the United States to task for its unilateral bombing campaign in Iraq.

He also discussed future travel plans, including the possibility of his first papal visit to the United States.

In remarks during a Mass at Seoul’s Myeongdong Cathedral, the Roman Catholic pontiff called for “reconciliation in this Korean family,” clearly referring to the bitter divide between North and South Korea.

“Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences … and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people,” Francis said.

The Korean peninsula has been divided for more than 60 years. The 1950-53 war has never officially ended; an armistice agreement was signed, but a peace treaty was not.


North Korea was invited to send a delegation to participate in the Mass but declined.

A number of North Korean defectors were invited to the Mass, as were people with disabilities and some former “comfort women,” who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

The Mass, attended by about 1,700 people, was the last major event on Francis’ itinerary during his five-day visit to South Korea, where he has attracted large and enthusiastic crowds at all his appearances. The pope’s emphasis on care for the poor made a particularly strong impression.

“Pope Francis has awed and moved South Koreans not just with his signature beaming smiles and comforting words, but through his humble, tender and sincere demeanor to people from all walks of life,” the JoongAng Daily newspaper said in an editorial Monday.

On his flight back to Rome, the pope held a wide-ranging news conference that touched on his travel plans and on the conflict in Iraq, where the United States has been bombing positions held by the Islamic State, an Al Qaeda breakaway group.

Asked about the militant group’s persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, Francis called the Islamic State an “unjust aggressor” and said it was legitimate to “halt” such a group, the Vatican said. However, he said that did not necessarily justify bombing — and that the decision about how to stop an aggressor should be made by an international organization such as the United Nations, not by a single nation.

“How many times with the excuse of halting the unjust aggressor have powerful nations taken possession of peoples and waged a war of conquest?” he asked.

The pope discussed the possibility of visiting refugees in northern Iraq, although he did not commit to doing so. Any such trip would pose significant logistical hurdles and security challenges. The Vatican said he “is ready to do so if it is deemed a good thing to do.”

He also discussed other travel possibilities, including to Philadelphia, New York, Mexico, Spain and Japan. He said he had received a “shower” of invitations from around the world. His plans so far call for a visit Albania.

Borowiec is a special correspondent.