MANILA, Philippines – Pope Francis, who visits Asia for the first time as pontiff Wednesday, August 13, said he wants to kiss the feet of Christians persecuted for their faith, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said.
Quoting Francis in a lecture in Australia on August 1, Tagle said: “He told me, 'If I encounter someone who was persecuted for the faith from Asia, I would kiss his hand, I would kiss his feet, for they deserve the respect that we give to the saints of the faith.'”
Persecuted Christians lie at the core of the Pope's visit to South Korea from Wednesday to Monday, August 13 to 18.
During his visit to South Korea, Francis is set to beatify, or declare as “blessed” and worth venerating, Paul Yun Ji-Chung and 123 companion martyrs. Described as among the first to bring Christianity to Korea, these martyrs died between 1791 and 1888 in defense of Christianity.
Francis' visit to Asia comes as he called on the international community on Thursday, August 7, to protect the mostly Christian communities of northern Iraq fleeing a lightning advance by jihadist militants.
'Persecution deepens conviction'
In the forum after his Newman Lecture titled “The Church in Asia: Joy, Hope, Grief, and Anxiety,” Tagle said: “The beatification and the canonization of the Asian martyrs of faith just gives Christians in the midst of persecution, hope. It is an affirmation that the Church is not weakened by persecution. In fact by some mysterious action of God, persecution even deepens their conviction. And we need to learn from them.”
Tagle, who spoke at the St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, pointed out that “we who enjoy freedom of religion...might be spoiled, really.”
“We do not even have to fight for our faith. We don't even have to fight for our faith with our lives hanging on a balance. But that is how some of our brothers and sisters in Asia live their faith on a daily basis,” the cardinal said.
Tagle recalled a visit to lay missionaries in a country he declined to name. Some of them had been ordained priests, he said, but had to disguise themselves “as teachers, as maids, as auto mechanics” to work as missionaries. In fact, one of them introduced Tagle as a “visiting professor” from the Philippines.
Tagle praised their “tenacity.”
He noted, too, that 20 religious sisters from mainland China recently flew to Manila “for a month of renewal.”
“Oh, the zeal, the joy – contagious!” Tagle exclaimed.
“You would not think that they come from a situation of suffering and persecution,” he said. “It is grace. It is not just human psychology. It is grace. So when you encounter them, you will be edified and you will be affirmed in your own faith.”
Five months after visiting South Korea, Francis is set to visit another Asian country in a different form of suffering: the Philippines, which is reeling from disasters such as the magnitude 7.2 earthquake and Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that both devastated the Visayas in 2013. – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.