Pope Francis ended his first visit to Asia Monday with a call for reconciliation between South Korea and its bitter communist rival, North Korea.
The pontiff issued his call for peace on the troubled Korean peninsula at a Mass at Seoul's Myeongdong cathedral that was attended by South Korean President Park Geun-hye. He said reconciliation would only come through forgiveness, even though it may seem "impossible, impractical and even at times repugnant."
"Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounters and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people,” said Francis.
Catholic officials in South Korea urged Pyongyang to send a delegation from the state-run Korean Catholic Association to Seoul for the Mass, but the regime rejected the invitation, citing the annual joint military drills between South Korea and the United States, which also began Monday.
The North has vowed to launch a "merciless" preemptive strike against the South if the drills take place.
Before the start of the Mass, Pope Francis met with a small number of elderly women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese military forces who occupied the Korean peninsula for decades, leaving only at the end of World War II in 1945.
One of the so-called "comfort women" gave him a butterfly-shaped pin that the pontiff wore on his vestment during the Mass. The butterfly is a symbol of their campaign for recognition and atonement from Japan over their treatment.
During his five-day visit to South Korea, Pope Francis reached out to communist-run countries like China and North Korea, urging them to foster a proper dialogue with the Vatican.