Pope Francis beatified 124 Korean martyrs from the 18th and 19th century in front of a crowd of an estimated 800,000 followers in front of Gwanghwamun Gate in Seoul. Beatification is the third of four steps in becoming a saint.
The ceremony came as part of the Pope's historic trip to South Korea, where he has drawn large crowds in the peninsula country. Some 10,000 Catholics died in Korea during the 18th and 19th centuries, making the population one most persecuted congregations in the history of Catholicism, according to the Wall Street Journal
A highlight for Catholics attending the ceremony was the introduction of Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, from Seoul, who received his red hat from Pope Francis in February.
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"They were willing to make great sacrifices and let themselves be stripped of whatever kept them from Christ – possessions and land, prestige and honor – for they knew that Christ alone was their true treasure,'' Pope Francis said during his sermon on Saturday, according to the BBC News
. "They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for.''
Despite the large crowds, some Buddhists and Confucians, two of the major religious groups in South Korea, expressed displeasure over the pope's trip, according to The New York Times
. Christians make up 29 percent of the country.
"The enemy king has appeared at the center of our nation," Rev. Song Choon-gil, a Presbyterian pastor, shouted near one of the Pope's services on Saturday, saying that the Catholic Church represented "idol worship" and "satanic forces," the Times reported.
Pope Francis planned to meet with many of South Korea's religious leaders on Monday in hopes to build some religious unity, but the Times said some Protestants continue to feel uneasy about his visit.
"What is interesting is that there is very little mention of the pope's visit to Korea in Protestant media, even though it is the biggest news in the country right now," Koo Se-woong, an expert on Korean religions, told the Times. "That silence itself speaks to the resentment Protestants feel toward the Catholic Church, which enjoys a greater level of public trust than the Protestant side."
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