Massive crowds, adoring fans, and the Pope Mobile in all of its (Kia) glory — so far Pope Francis’ five-day trip through South Korea, his first ever to Asia, has been what you might expect.
But a surprise came Saturday when Francis visited a small community south of Seoul and its cemetery for aborted babies.
The Boston Globe writes that, since the Pope’s election to the papacy, there has been doubt to his commitment to the pro-life cause, so praying at the cemetery was a significant gesture.
“Those fears were fueled by a couple of interviews in which Francis complained of the Church being ‘obsessed’ with moral debates, saying in one: ‘We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.’”
The cemetery is located within another point of controversy — Kkottongnae, or the “Flower Village,” which provides a home for around 5,000 people, many of whom are disabled or homeless.
Why the controversy? Well, according to The Korea Herald, the visit marks Pope Francis’ only engagement with needy South Koreans during his trip, something that’s upset Catholic activists who call the institution the Korean version of the mafia and a ghetto for the disabled.
Critics suggested that the Pope visit the demilitarized zone to possibly ease tensions between North and South Korea or visit more remote areas in the region.
The Union of Catholic Asian News reported in 2003 that Kottongnae’s founder and president, Father John Oh Woong-jin, was charged with embezzling donations and government subsidies.
Although Father Oh was found not guilty in 2007, an editorial on Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh writes that the corruption associated with the shelter and its president could run opposite of what Pope Francis has been preaching:
“A visit to such a controversial place, at a time when he has declared his commitment to rooting out corruption in the Vatican, could end up a black mark on his own reputation.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, human-rights activists protested the Pope’s visit to Kottongnae on the grounds that it “encourages the admitted to lead a life of dependency instead of helping them to live on their own in society.”
Before visiting Kottongnae, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Seoul and beatified a group of 124 Korean martyrs.