“Going out…proclaiming Jesus Christ…not staying closed in our structures” – that’s how he described his call within the call. In a sense, that dream was at least partly fulfilled today when the papal plane touched down at an Air Base in Seoul, South Korea. In this specific case his missionary dream is articulated around three main themes: recognizing the role of young people in the Church by celebrating the 6th Asian Youth Day together with them, acknowledging the history of the Faith in this part of the world by beatifying 124 of its martyrs who died for their beliefs in the 19th century, encouraging reconciliation and peace, between North and South Korea, in particular, by praying for that purpose at a special Mass in Seoul.
Speaking to the 72 journalists representing 11 nations who are travelling with him on the flight from Rome, Pope Francis was even more explicit: “This is not a tourist visit”, he said. The Pope greeted members of the press corps individually, and thanked them for their words which, he said, “help unite us to the world”. He also prayed in silence for the Italian journalist and his Palestinian translator who were killed while reporting on the situation in Gaza on August 13th. Finally, the Pope promised to answer journalist’s questions on the return flight - even though, he quipped, he might end up “like Daniel in the lion’s den…although these lions don’t bite”, he added quickly. Pope Francis faced a fairly full schedule on his first day, including official meetings with the President and local authorities and then with members of the Korean Bishops Conference. He’s already said he knows this trip is going to be, in his own words, “very physical”. But then, as we all know, “physicality” is one of the distinguishing characteristics of every good missionary…and of Pope Francis himself.