Pope Francis calls for reconciliation as US-Korea military drills begin
Marking the end of his first visit to Asia in Seoul, Pope Francis has urged for peace and reconciliation after South Korea and the US began joint military exercises on Monday, as part of the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) drill which will last until 29th August.
Addressing the crowds Pope Francis urged Koreans on both sides of the border to unite as “one people” and to find ways to bring peace in the regions, and not let suspicions divide them.
The Pope led a reconciliations mass in Seoul’s main Myeongdong cathedral, which was attended by president Park Geun-hye of South Korea and North Korean defectors. During the ceremony he called for both sides to use forgiveness for one another as “the door which leads to reconciliation”.
After the mass the holy father met seven elderly ladies who were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II. He told his followers that forgiveness was the key and “all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people”.
Today’s mass coincides with the US and South Korea exercises which have provoked anger from North Korea. Pyongyang officials have declared UFG a possible threat of invasion by South Korea and its allies in the West, adding that it will use all measures to deter any possible action, North Korea has warned Seoul that Pyongyang could launch pre-emptive strikes at any time if the drills violated its territory.
This year’s rehearsals will draw up thousands of US and South Korean troops and will involve simulated nuclear exercises. According to the Seoul Defence Ministry the training will be a largely computer-simulated response to a possible nuclear threat.
Leader of the North Kim Jong-un has repeatedly accused the US and its Western allies of stoking tensions between the sides.
The two Korean sides fought a bitter war between 1950-53 during which a United Nations force led by the US fought for the South against a Chinese and Soviet Union led army for the North. Both sides are still at war since no peace treaty has ever been signed and any lull in fighting is due to a temporary ceasefire.