Listen to this story:
ROME – After what turned out to be a deadly few days across the globe, Pope Francis Sunday offered prayers for both Somalia and South Korea, where hundreds of lives were lost over the weekend, as well as for Ukraine amid its ongoing war with Russia
Speaking to pilgrims during his Oct. 30 Angelus address, Pope Francis lamented a crowd-crushing incident in Seoul, South Korea Saturday night which so far has claimed the lives of at least 154 people, asking God to intercede “for those, above all young people, who died last night in Seoul, due to the tragic consequences of a sudden crush of the crowd.”
According to local South Korean media, emergency calls first began to ring in shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday, after a huge throng of Halloween partygoers barreled down a narrow alley near the city’s Hamilton Hotel, with dozens crushed as the crowd continued to press forward, despite those falling to the ground.
Already being referred to as the deadliest incident in South Korean history, the tragedy happened as youth were out celebrating Halloween for the first time in three years, after COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted.
Tens of thousands of mostly young people in their teens and twenties had reportedly gone to Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood, known for its nightlife, wearing masks and costumes to celebrate Halloween in pubs and bars.
While the cause of the incident has not yet been determined, some local media have reported that it was sparked when a large group of people rushed to a bar after hearing a rumor that an unidentified celebrity was visiting the area.
On Sunday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol declared a period of national mourning while the tragedy is investigated.
At least 26 foreign nationals, including two U.S. citizens, are among the dead, and more than a dozen embassies around the world have confirmed victims from their countries. In addition to the 154 dead, authorities, as of Sunday night, reported at least 133 others were injured, 37 seriously.
On Sunday, police said they had received reports of 355 people still missing in the wake of the disaster.
In a statement following the incident, the South Korean bishops expressed their “immense pain” and condemned the mass loss of life, offering prayers for the families who lost loved ones, and praying for “the speedy recovery and the peace” of the injured.
The bishops also insisted that “we must strive to break the cycle of injustice and irresponsibility that has become a common practice in this society,” saying that to do this, “we must first be faithful to our respective roles.”
“For the peace and security of the people, the competent authorities must thoroughly examine the cause and trajectory of this tragedy and ensure that irresponsibility and forgetfulness are not repeated,” they said, voicing hope “that there will be no more sacrifices on the part of so many people, especially young people.”
In his own statement Monday, Archbishop Jeong Sun-taek of Seoul prayed for the eternal rest of the victims, and for the comfort of their families, voicing hope that “there will be no more deaths.”
“I ask God to take care of our society in the face of grief and sorrow due to this tragedy, and I pray that the grace of the Lord will be with the authorities involved in the accident and all those who are working on rescue operations at the scene,” he said.
Pope Francis Sunday also offered prayers for Somalia, where at least 100 people were killed in two car bombings Saturday in the capital city of Mogadishu.
In his remarks, Pope Francis said that while the church celebrates Jesus Christ’s victory over evil and death, “we pray for the victims of the terrorist attack which, in Mogadishu, killed more than one hundred people, including many children.”
“May God convert the hearts of the violent!” he said.
The attack in Somalia took place Saturday near the country’s Ministry for Education, next to a bustling outdoor market intersection. At least 100 people have been killed and 300 others injured, with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud warning Sunday that the death toll was likely to rise.
This was the deadliest attack in Somalia since a similar truck bomb exploded at the same intersection in October 2017, killing 500 people.
The al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the education ministry was at the center of a “war on minds,” teaching Somali children with a syllabus based on Christian teachings.
These and other similar attacks are frequently staged by al Shabaab, which has sought to overthrow the Somali government and establish its own regime centered on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law.
During his Angelus, Pope Francis also prayed for peace in “martyred Ukraine,” saying the ongoing war with Russia has caused pain in the hearts of the world, and asking faithful to “pray for peace, let us not tire of doing so!”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen