Seoul, South Korea, Aug 24, 2014 / 04:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Many across Asia from all ages and stages in life voiced their enthusiasm in seeing Pope Francis during his recent visit to South Korea, saying he has shown great closeness to the Asian people.
“It’s a very overwhelming experience. At first we didn’t put very high expectations, but when he’s here, personally, you have an overwhelming feeling and it feels so joyful. That joy that you have, you just don’t know how to explain it,” Matthias Rider told CNA Aug. 15.
“He gives a message about people in our society (and) in the world today, so it’s a wonderful support message for all of us.”
Traveling as part of a group of 21 from Brunei, Rider, 22, was present with roughly 2,000 other Asian youth for an Aug. 15 encounter between the Pope and the participants of the sixth Asian youth day in South Korea, which was a key motive for his Aug. 14-18 apostolic visit to the country.
Rider stated that being with the pontiff “makes you feel at ease,” because it feels “like you’re talking to a parent, and when the parent gives you that support saying ‘it’s gonna be alright,’ it feels nice. It’s a wonderful experience.”
Echoing the sentiments of many who expressed their happiness at seeing the Pope throughout his visit, Rider’s voice speaks on behalf of the youth in particular, who were moved not only by the Pope’s presence, but by his encouragement and words of hope.
Sarina Song, 32 and a Seoul native, explained to CNA Aug. 15 that Pope Francis’ presence as the first pontiff to visit the Korean peninsula since St. John Paul II’s visit in 1989 shows that “Korea is blessed by God and the Virgin Mary,” and that “Rome values Korea as a Catholic country.”
The Pope's message, she said, is one of “hope. Hope for Korea and youth, and everything. Every trouble in Korea. It’s a message for hope and reunification between Koreans, youth, elderly.”
Also present for the Pope’s Aug. 15 encounter with youth was a young woman named Ann from Indonesia, who is one out of a group of 70 that performed a traditional Indonesian dance during the event. Dancing for the Pope she said, was “amazing, exciting, speechless.”
“We are really so blessed that we can be here, and be part of Asian youth day (with other) Catholic youth, and can meet the Pope. After we go back to Indonesia we can share our joy and we can share our experience and our faith in the Lord.”
Reflecting on the fact that it is the first time a Pope has come for the celebration of an Asian Youth Day, Para Deepak Raj, a youth from the archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore in the state of Chennai in India, explained that “It’s very special” to have the pontiff in Asia.
One of 41,000 youth present for Pope Francis' Aug. 17 mass closing the Asian Youth Day, Raj stated that his presence “gives us a very special feeling that we are close to the heart of the Pope.”
“The Church says that the youth are the future of the Church, so this is a very symbolic representation that the Church is giving a very high importance to the youth.”
Pope Francis has also touched the hearts of many Koreans through his words and actions to the family members of victims of last spring’s Sewol ferry disaster, which claimed the lives of around 300 people, mostly high school students. On second to last day of his trip, the pontiff personally baptized the father of one of the victims, who took the Christian name “Francis.”
“For all of us in Asia” the Pope’s presence is “a great encouragement and helps us to be stronger in our faith and to continue to be a witness,” Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, who heads the diocese of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, told CNA Aug. 14.
Referring to the group of 30 youth he was accompanying for Asian Youth Day, the bishop explained that “It’s very good for people to have this experience to meet young people from Asia and to get witnesses and experience from them, and to be stronger in their faith when they go back home.”
The Pope’s presence, he said, “means that we are part of a universal Church” and “reminds us that we are to live in communion, and that we are one Church.”
“That is very beautiful and it’s a sign that all together we try to build the kingdom of God. It means trying to be a witness of peace.”
Bishop Joel Baylon, Head of Youth Ministry for the Federation for Asian Bishops Conferences and head of the Diocese of Legazpi in the Philippines also spoke with CNA Aug. 14, stating that the pontiff’s presence in Korea “should provide much hope.”
“There’s this logo here, ‘Pope, Hope.’ It’s very a special message for practically everybody,” he noted, explaining that “the Holy Father has been a very significant figure in the life of Asians, especially the Filipinos.”
“We always look forward to the message of the Holy Father, we listen to him intently, and his presence always provides meaning for what we have or what we do not have,” the bishop observed, drawing attention to the poverty, political and social problems the country is currently facing.
Referring to Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the Sri Lanka and the Philippines, which is still recovering from a typhoon that ravaged the country last November, Bishop Baylon stated that “the Holy Father’s presence will provide energy once again.”
“For us to believe in ourselves, for us to believe in God, whom the Holy Father will bring to us. Not that he’s not present, but we will feel him even more present, loving us just the same, as he has always been.”
Alan Holdren and Walter Sanchez contributed to this report.
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