August 25, 2014

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – Pope Francis has warned South Korea's Catholic bishops not to let their country's "prosperous, yet increasingly secularized and materialistic society" distract the Church from its essential duty to evangelize.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the southern half of the peninsula has risen from poverty to become the world's 13th-largest economy – good fortune that Pope Francis said posed cultural and spiritual perils.

"In such circumstances, it is tempting for pastoral ministers to adopt not only effective models of management, planning and organization drawn from the business world, but also a lifestyle and mentality guided more by worldly criteria of success, and indeed power, than by the criteria which Jesus sets out in the Gospel," the pope said Aug. 14.

In the largest event of his visit, an outdoor Mass attended by some 50,000 people, Pope Francis prayed that Christian values overcome demoralization in economically successful societies.

"The hope held out by the Gospel is the antidote to the spirit of despair that seems to grow like cancer in societies which are outwardly affluent yet often experience inner sadness and emptiness," the pope said Aug. 15 in Daejeon.

The pope voiced his hope that Christians in South Korea might "combat the allure of a materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values and the spirit of unbridled competition, which generates selfishness and strife."

"May they also reject inhumane economic models which create new forms of poverty and marginalize workers, and the culture of death which devalues the image of God, the God of life, and violates the dignity of every man, woman and child," he said.

In an Aug. 17 talk the pope urged several hundred Asian bishops to be open to all and ready for dialogue.

Dialogue, he said, requires both empathy and a clear sense of Christian identity.

Christian identity, he said, is constantly tempted by the "spirit of the world" in a number of ways, including relativism.

Relativism leads people to "forget that in a world of rapid and disorienting change, there is much that is unchanging, much that has its ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever," he said.

The pope returned to the theme of Christian identity when he addressed more than 40,000 Asian Youth Day participants at the event's closing Mass.

"You have a right and a duty to take full part in the life of your societies. Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life.

"You see and love, from within, all that is beautiful, noble and true in your cultures and traditions. Yet as Christians, you also know that the Gospel has the power to purify, elevate and perfect this heritage," he said.