Thursday, August 14, 2014

Francis' "Continent of Hope" – In Korea, The Bridge-Building Continues

Before anything else, to those who've been asking after this scribe's whereabouts these last weeks, a heartfelt thanks. For now, just know that: 1. everything's fine, and 2. amid the first "normal" (read: quiet, easy) summer I've had in four years, a proper hiatus has been in order, and a tremendous gift.

...and now, back to work.

After an 11-hour flight that, in a first, took a Pope over Chinese airspace, early today saw Francis' arrival in Korea – Jorge Bergoglio's first-ever trip to Asia: the continent where, as a young Jesuit, he longed to serve as a missionary.

Beyond the personal facet, meanwhile, the long weekend visit brings a booming, home-grown Asian church face-to-face with its staunchest champion upon Peter's Chair in modern times, as well as providing a geopolitical story in the Pope's planned calls for reconciliation between the democratized South and the Communist North. (Having declined an invitation to send representatives to a Monday Mass in Seoul's cathedral for a peaceful resolution of the peninsula's long-simmering standoff, North Korea launched three short-range rockets into the East Sea about an hour before Francis' plane landed. The exercise has been interpreted as part of the North's protest over a joint US-South Korea military drill slated for later this month.)

Continuing the road-warrior scheduling unseen since the heyday of John Paul II, the four-day trip is set to include 11 major talks over 18 public events, with nary a break between them. While the visit's overarching purpose is for Francis to preside over Sunday's closing of Asia's three-yearly continental Youth Day, the keener thread in the wider church is likely to be Papa Bergoglio's first in-depth articulation of his rationale for seeing Asian Catholicism as his "continent of hope" – a moniker that, by pointed contrast, his predecessors reserved for Latin America.

The latter exercise begins at 5.30pm local time today with a speech to the Korean bishops, following a 4pm visit with President Park Geun-Hye and the South's top leadership at the head of state's residence, the Blue House. (All times are seven hours ahead of Rome, 13 hours from US Eastern, 16 Pacific.)

Here, the Vatican livefeed – texts, etc. will roll out on delivery....

(SVILUPPO: As the speech to the bishops was not broadcast, the video above is solely of the civil welcome ceremony.)

More to come – and, as always, everything in real-time via Page Three (either directly or down the right sidebar of the main page).

And lastly for now, with school already starting up in no shortage of spots – and, with it, many among us already headed back to the usual grind – here's hoping a beautiful summer's been had by one and all; hard to believe where it went. On this end, we remain a few weeks out until an almost surreal Fall Cycle kicks into full gear... still, as this "break from the break" begins, suffice it to say, it's good to be home.