Roman Catholics in South Korea are optimistic that the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis will help ease tensions and help to pave the way to a much-awaited reconciliation with its neighbor North Korea.
Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, Archbishop of Seoul, said the people of South Korea are hopeful that the papal visit will produce the "greatest miracle," for the two Koreas to return to dialogue, reported CBCP News.
"In the Holy Land, the Pope invited the presidents of Israel and Palestine 'to his home' in the Vatican to pray together. Perhaps, Pope Francis might make a gesture of peace or detente for the two Koreas," said Yeom according to CBCP, the news service of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.
The Argentine-born pontiff is scheduled to travel to South Korea on August 14-18, his first Asian trip as the head of the Catholic Church, for the 6th Asian Youth Day, a weeklong event to be held in Daejon.
"Currently neither side shows any willingness to enter into dialogue, and this is one of the most frustrating things for us," noted Cardinal Yeom.
Tensions have erupted sporadically between the two Koreas in recent months, particularly along their maritime boundary.
The deep-seated conflict between the two was unleashed following the liberation from Japanese occupation n 1945, which led to the separation of the Korean peninsula and to the Korean civil war.
The Koreas are still in technical state of war as the three-year conflict that began in 1950 ended in an armistice.
The cardinal said Catholics in the South were also hoping that the Pope would invite the two leaders, North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Park Geun-hye for a common gesture of prayer or a meeting.
"The Pope is a person who wants peace and does not want North Korea to be lost, who wants North and South Korea to live together in harmony and share fraternal love.
"I would hope that the Pope will bless Kim Jong-un and President Park, wishing them both a future of peace," said Yeom.
CARDINAL SEEKS MIRACLE FROM PAPAL VISIT
"But it would be a true miracle," the cardinal was quick to admit.
Yeom noted that Francis' trip to South Korea will particularly focus on the laity, who have been a vital force in the growth of the Catholic Church in the country.
"His decision to come to Korea, the first fully Asian country, so to speak, has really impressed us," he said.
"I truly believe that God is working to show us a path and His will. The Pope is coming first and foremost to meet the young people of Asia... He is coming to encourage us to be at the forefront of mission," added the cardinal.
Of South Korea's population of 49 million Christians are the biggest single religious group accounting for 31.6 percent (Protestant 24 percent, Roman Catholic 7.6 percent), with Buddhist accounting for 24.2 percent of the people.
Of North Korea's population only a tiny percentage are Christians, but reliable figures are hard to come by.
Before 1948 Pyongyang was an important Christian center: one-sixth of its population of about 300,000 people were converts, the U.S. Library of Congress says its country report on South Korea.