Pope Francis in South Korea
This weekend, Seoul sees the main event of Pope Francis’s trip to South Korea. He’ll beatify 124 Korean martyrs in a ceremonial Mass in front of tens of thousands of worshipers. Throughout the 19th century, Catholics were attacked and persecuted in South Korea - reaching a peak in 1866 when 8,000 Catholics were killed. In all, more than 10,000 martyrs died in persecutions that extended for more than a hundred years. Pope John Paul canonized 103 martyrs on his visit to the country in 1984, and today Francis will celebrate the beatification of 124 more in front of Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Gate.
While the Pope honors the past persecution of believers in the south, across the 38th parallel, believers in the north risk fates just as bad as those early Christians Francis is beatifying. Pyongyang was once a regional missionary hub with scores of churches and a thriving Christian community that earned it the name "Jerusalem of the East." Today, Pyongyang's state-run Korean Catholic Association (KCA) has no ties with the Vatican and is often referred to as the "Church of silence" by Catholics in the South. An American tourist Jeffrey Fowle -- suspected of leaving a Bible in a nightclub -- is currently awaiting trial for unspecified "hostile acts."
Ukraine Marks Independence from Russia
Next week Ukraine marks 23 years of independence from Russia. Ever since the split from Moscow, the day has been one of celebration – of parties and parades. Not this year. Dozens of heavy Russian military vehicles are massed near the border with Ukraine.
The White House says it fears Russia may use the deteriorating situation in the east of the country as a pretext for a humanitarian “intervention.” Relief agencies say people living in Luhansk and in Donetsk, where pro-Moscow separatists are fighting government forces, face shortages of water, food and electricity after four months of conflict. The UN says the death toll in the country has doubled in the space of the past month to more than 2,000. On average, more than 60 people a day have been killed or wounded since fighting began in mid-April in eastern Ukraine, rising to at least 70 people a day in the first week of August.
Last year, Independence Day was marked by fireworks in Kiev. Twelve months later, there’s not much to celebrate for either side in Ukraine.