Concluding the World Youth Day closing Mass in Lisbon, Portugal, this August 6, 2023, Pope Francis announced the host country for the next international gathering: South Korea.
The next international WYD is four years down the road, given that 2025 is the next ordinary jubilee, and the Pope invited the youth of the world to Rome for that celebration.
The Holy Father reflected how WYD will thus go from “the western border of Europe,” in Portugal, “to the Far East” — “a beautiful sign of the universality of the Church, and of the dream of unity to which (the young people are) all witnesses.”
This will be only the 2nd time that Asia hosts a WYD, after Manila, Philippines, in 1995.
Pope Francis made a memorable trip to South Korea in 2014.
South Korea has a rich and interesting history of faith, given that it was laity who planted Catholicism there.
The Holy Father noted this earlier this year, when he dedicated the general audience of May 24 to St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon (1821-1846), the first native-born priest of the nation.
The evangelization of Korea was done by the laity! It was the baptized laity who transmitted the faith, there were no priests […] Would we be capable of something like that? Let’s think about it: It’s interesting.
A growing Church
In 2020, the Catholic Pastoral Institute of South Korea reported that the number of Catholics in this country had increased from just under 4 million in 1999 to 5.9 million in 2018, an increase of 48.6%. The population of the country had at the same time increased by only 21.6%, analyzed Courrier International.
In 10 years, Pope Francis has considerably increased the share of Asian prelates in the College of Cardinals. At the 2013 conclave, Asians made up just under 8% of the college. Today they are 16%.
South Korea currently has two cardinal electors: Andrew Soo-Jung, 79, Archbishop Emeritus of Seoul, and Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, 71. The latter was appointed in 2021 to head the Dicastery for the Clergy, one of the most important groups in the Vatican since he watches over the nearly 410,000 priests, 46,000 deacons and 7,000 active seminaries in the world.
The theme of reconciliation could take a major role during World Youth Day in Seoul. In 2014, a Mass for reconciliation and peace in Korea, divided between South and North, was celebrated by Pope Francis during his trip. No pope has ever set foot in North Korea, but timid advances in this direction have been observed during the pontificate of Pope Francis. In 2018, the Pope indicated his availability to visit North Korea if he received an official invitation – which has not yet come. This responded to a wish of former South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a devout Catholic and very committed to the reunification of the Korean peninsula.