SEOUL, South Korea – Pope Francis made another gesture Sunday toward families who lost loved ones in South Korea’s ferry disaster, baptizing the father of a student victim.
Lee Ho Jin took the Christian name “Francis” during the rite, which the pope administered in the Vatican’s embassy in Seoul, according to the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Lee had been one of a dozen relatives of victims and survivors of the April ferry sinking who met privately with the pope Friday. He asked to be baptized and Francis agreed.
Francis has gone out of his way to show support for the Sewol ferry families, who are demanding an independent inquiry into the sinking that killed more than 300 people, most of them high school students. Aside from meeting publicly and privately with them, he has worn a symbolic yellow ribbon on his cassock in solidarity.
Lombardi has said Francis isn’t getting involved in their demands for a parliamentary inquiry, but is merely offering them support and prayers. He said Francis was particularly pleased to have been asked to perform a baptism since Korea’s Catholic Church has been growing steadily thanks in large part to an unusually high number of adult baptisms each year.
The rite was Francis’ first – albeit unofficial – event of the day. Afterward, he headed about 60 miles southwest of Seoul to Haemi for a meeting with Asian bishops, where he was expected to outline his priorities for the Catholic Church in the region.
He was expected to offer a similar reflection to a few thousand young people gathered for a Mass ending the Asian version of World Youth Day.
The Mass was taking place inside the walls of the Haemi castle, a 15th century fortress that was used in the 19th century as a detention center for Christians persecuted by Korea’s Joseon Dynasty. In a nearby sanctuary, some 132 martyrs were tortured and killed.
The event looked poised to be something of a washout: A steady rain was drenching the castle grounds and hours before it was to begin, bands of kids were roaming the area in brightly colored ponchos trying to avoid ever-expanding mud puddles.
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