Pope urges Korean reconciliation, reaches out to China

Mon Aug 18, 2014 1:04am EDT
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By Ju-min Park and Tony Munroe

SEOUL (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Monday called for peace and reconciliation on the divided Korean peninsula and sent a further message of goodwill to China, wrapping-up a five day trip to South Korea and the first papal visit to Asia in 15 years.

Before a Mass on Monday at Seoul's Myeongdong Cathedral, Francis prayed with a small number of "comfort women", who were forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers occupying the country before and during the World War Two.

"Today's Mass is first and foremost a prayer for reconciliation in this Korean family," Francis said, following up on an impromptu prayer on Friday when he urged Koreans to work to unite as one family, "with no victors or vanquished".

The 1950-1953 Korean war ended in an armed truce that leaves North Korea and South Korea in a technical state of war.

A group of defectors from North Korea and relatives of South Koreans abducted by the North were invited to the mass, which was attended by South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

North Korea turned down an invitation from the South Korean Catholic church for members of its state-run Korean Catholic Association to attend Monday's Mass, citing the start of joint U.S.-South Korean military drills, also due to begin on Monday.

"Let us pray ... for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people," Francis said.

Near the conclusion of Monday's Mass, a choir sang, "Our wish is unification."   Continued...

Pope Francis (L) consoles a woman who had been forced to work as one of the sex slaves, or "comfort women", for Japanese soldiers occupying the country before and during the second World War, during a Mass at Seoul's Myeongdong Cathedral August 18, 2014.  REUTERS/Do Kwang-hwan/Yonhap