First in Asia, Vatican declares Seoul as int’l pilgrimage site

First in Asia, Vatican declares Seoul as int’l pilgrimage site
The Vatican has formally recognized the “Seoul Pilgrimage Routes” as an international pilgrimage destination during a solemn ceremony held at the historical Seosomun Shrine in Seoul City Sept. 14. PHOTOS BY ROY LAGARDE

By Roy Lagarde

October 2, 2018

Seoul, South Korea

The Vatican has authorized official pilgrimage visits to Seoul, a city laden with memorials dedicated to thousands of South Korea’s martyrs.

The decision has placed Seoul on the list of official Catholic pilgrimage sites issued yearly by the Holy See, the first one in Asia.

It is expected to increase religious tourism to Seoul, as Christian pilgrims from around the world choose from the list of pilgrimage destinations.

The formal recognition was held on Sept. 14 with a Mass presided by Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of the Seoul archdiocese at the historical Seosomun Shrine.

The site is an important place in the history of the Church in Korea because it is where hundreds of people, including 44 who were declared saints, were martyred.

Also in attendance were Archbishop Rino Fisichella of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Papal nuncio to South Korea Archbishop Alfred Xuereb, and several Asian church leaders including Archbishop Romulo Valles of the Philippines.

In his message, Fisichella said that the Christian community has many pastoral means available “in order to favor the acceptance of the gift of faith which is our response” to God’s calling.

“Of these the Church in Korea holds in high esteem the pilgrimage routes associated with Korean martyrs as a tangible means to discover or to come to know better the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.

Touted as the “Camino de Santiago of Asia”, the Seoul pilgrimage routes cover a 44.1 km-long road that starts from Myeongdong Cathedral to the Samseongsan Holy Ground.

Archbishop Fisichella said the Vatican is convinced that Seoul’s pilgrimage routes “is an effective way for the Church in Korea to honor the memory of her martyrs”.

“These routes can help not only pilgrims coming from Asia and all over the world, and whoever else choses to walk them, to reflect on the fact of human life laid down out of love and to open their hearts to the transforming power of God’s grace which bestows the gift of faith,” he said.

Valles, who took part in a “Pilgrimage Week” celebration that started on Sept. 10, said he was inspired by the deep faith of the Korean people.

“I hope that we get connected as Asian people especially the Philippines. I’m sure that they can learn from us and we can be inspired by the faith of the Korean people as well, especially manifested by the lives of these martyrs,” he said.

Committed to promote the religious tourism, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has unveiled tour programs approximating the pilgrimage sites with neighboring tourist attractions.

Ju Yong-tae, head of Seoul’s tourism and sports bureau, said that world pilgrimage destinations, such as Spain’s Camino de Santiago, are attracting tourists to contribute to the revitalization of local tourism industry.

“As we are expecting a lot of tourists in Seoul following the Vatican’s official authorization, we would like to develop the pilgrimage routes in Seoul into a global tourist attraction,” the official said.

“Seoul Pilgrimage Routes have a lot of unique storytelling elements based on a history of persecution and martyrdom and a voluntary process in propagation without the presence of missionaries, and therefore has a very high potential as tourism resource,” he added.