During his apostolic voyage to South Korea, the Holy Father has not lost his ability to surprise.
Yesterday, the 77-year-old Pontiff not only opted to take a high-speed train from Seoul to Daejeon rather than the scheduled-helicopter, but he also called in on Jesuits in the capital.
To reach Daejeon after celebrating Mass on the feast of the Assumption, the Pope gave up the helicopter and preferred to board the KTX high-speed train, despite never having been on a high-speed train before.
The train left the station shortly before 9am and covered the 90 miles between the two cities in 50 minutes.
According to the South Korean news agency Yonhap, the Pope traveled in the train’s fourth car, in first class, but near the economy class, where he surprised no less than 500 passengers on board the train.
Though the change of plan was said to be due to the presence of fog, a spokesman for the visit’s organizing committee, Hur Young-yup, didn't rule out another motivation: that by taking the train, the Holy Father had the opportunity to meet locals.
Later in the day, after speaking to young Asians at the Shrine of Solmoe, he surprised again by making a stop at Sogang University on his way back to the nunciature. The institution was founded by the Jesuits in Seoul in 1960.
Present at the encounter was Father Antonio Spadaro, director of La Civilta Cattolica who told Vatican Radio, there was "an incredible simplicity: a sense of home, of family, of normality.”
The relaxed and informal meeting was like a big celebration, Father Spadaro said, and the Jesuit Pope talked about the need for priests to bring consolation to people, rather than castigate them for their sins.
God’s people are seeking and needing to be consoled, Pope Francis stressed, and noted that the Church has many wounds, some of them caused by priests and practicing Catholics.
Often, he said, “our clerical attitudes have done much damage to the Church.”
But, he added, “there are no wounds that cannot be consoled by the love of God and priests are called to tend to these wounds, with the certainty that God will always bring forgiveness and hope."
The Holy Father reflected: “Priests are not state altar boys, but they are pastors” and he urged those present “to act like pastors with people who come to Confession. Be merciful, he exhorted them, and always remember that God never tires of forgiving us.”
In other surprising gestures, Vatican Radio reported that that a 22 year-old Korean girl who overcame anorexia asked the Holy Father if she could come to lunch with him when she’s in Rome. The Pope reportedly didn’t hesitate for a moment before saying yes.
He gave a blessing to a couple who can’t have children and agreed to baptise a Korean man who asked him. The Pope will perform the baptism himself in the chapel of the nunciature on Sunday morning.