Pope Francis, during a closing mass at the World Youth Day celebration in Lisbon, announced on Sunday that South Korea will be hosting the major Catholic youth festival in 2027.
“The next World Youth Day will be in Asia. It will be in South Korea in Seoul,” the pontiff instructed the gathered faithful while celebrating a closing mass at a park on the eastern outskirts of the Portuguese city.
“And so in 2027, from the western border of Europe it will move to the Far East, and this is a beautiful sign of the universality of the Church.”
As Pope Francis made the announcement, the crowd of around 1.5 million young pilgrims who had gathered from all over the world cheered while waving flags.
World Youth Day has only been held in Asia once, in 1995 in Manila, Philippines.
A week-long Catholic festival called World Youth Day includes a variety of activities like concerts and prayer sessions, according to AFP.
“We believe visitors to Korea will be impressed by our country’s remarkable efficiency,” the Archbishop of Seoul, Peter Soon Taek Chung, told a news conference in Lisbon after the pope’s announcement.
“The World Youth Day is not just a Catholic event. It is a global celebration and a platform for inter-religious encounters,” he added.
This year’s festival, initially scheduled for August 2022 but postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was the fourth for Francis after Rio de Janeiro in 2013, Krakow in 2016 and Panama in 2019.
Created in 1986 by John Paul II, it is an opportunity for the Vatican to galvanise young Catholics at a time when secularism and priest paedophilia scandals are causing some to abandon the faith.
Pope Francis visited South Korea in 2014, in what was the first trip to Asia by a pontiff in 15 years. The country is one of Roman Catholicism’s few strongholds in Asia.
About 11 per cent of South Korea’s population of around 52 million people are Catholic, a number that has increased in recent decades.