Korea prepares to welcome the Pope

Pope Francis is on his way to South Korea where he will join several thousand young Catholics from 23 different Asian countries gathered for the sixth Asian Youth Day and will beatify 124 Korean martyrs who died for their faith in the 18th Century.

While Buddhism remains strong in South Korea, the number of Catholics has risen to almost 11% of the population in a country where Korean Catholics tend to be well educated and form a significant part of their country's political elite.

According to the BBC’s Vatican correspondent, David Willey, “What distinguishes Catholicism in Korea from other Asian cultures is that Koreans did not wait for foreign missionaries to arrive before they began to convert. They formed their own church after learning of the foreign faith brought to China at the beginning of the 17th Century by the Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci. He introduced Western cartography and mathematics to China and his gilded statue still stands proudly today in the compound of the Catholic cathedral in Beijing.”

In a message ahead of his visit to South Korea, Pope Francis wrote: “Faith in Christ has implanted deep roots in your land and has borne abundant fruits. The elderly are custodians of this heritage: without them the young would have no memory. The encounter between young and old is the guarantee of the people’s journey. And the Church is the great family in which we are all brothers in Christ. I come to you in his name, in the joy of sharing with you the Gospel of love and hope.”

The photo shows the Solmoe Shrine in Dangjin, Korea, which commemorates the country’s martyrs and which Pope Francis is due to visit (ShareAlike License).