Seoul, South Korea • Pope Francis on Thursday begins the first papal visit to South Korea in a quarter century, with plans to beatify 124 Korean martyrs and encourage a vibrant and growing local church seen as a model for the future of Catholicism.
Highlights of the pope’s five days in South Korea also include his participation in a Catholic festival for young believers from around Asia and a Mass for peace and reconciliation on the war-divided Korean Peninsula. A ceremony Saturday to beatify Korean martyrs who perished for their faith from 1791 to 1888 could draw about 1 million people, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
"A lot of bad things keep happening in our country right now, and people are going through tough times. So I hope this event can encourage people and bring more positive things to our country," said Ryun Sun-hee, a 19-year-old college student.
It’s the first papal visit since Pope John Paul II traveled to South Korea in 1989. In January, Francis plans to visit Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
There was high anticipation in South Korea ahead of the visit.
The sound of construction could be heard at places in central Seoul that the pope will visit.
Traffic has been more congested and security has been tighter than usual in those areas.
Banners and posters welcoming the pope decorated streets and subway stations. Yonhap reported an increase in sales of rosaries and other Catholic goods, and special displays of books on the pope and Catholicism have sprung up in book stores.
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