LISBON – Two South Korean pilgrims who attended World Youth Day in Portugal this week have said they are thrilled with the announcement that the next global youth gathering will be held in their own backyard.

Pope Francis announced Seoul as the location of the next international World Youth Day (WYD) event Sunday during his closing Mass for WYD in Lisbon.

Speaking to Crux, Sunkwang Choi Matias, who is from Seoul, said the fact that the next WYD will be held in the South Korean capital is “very meaningful and we’re very happy and excited.”

“There will be a lot of preparations to do I guess,” he said, saying, “I will be very happy.”

Choi said his message to Pope Francis in the meantime is, “Just be healthy, pope, be healthy and pray for us and we’ll pray for you too.”

Pope Francis has been in Portugal since Wednesday, primarily to preside over the WYD gathering, but he also met with local civil authorities and made a brief trip to the Marian shrine in Fatima, where he met and prayed the rosary with sick young people and young prisoners.

Francis, who has an unabashed affinity for Asia, has visited the continent five times, making trips to South Korea in 2014, to the Sri Lanka and the Philippines in 2015, to Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017, to Thailand Japan in 2019, and to Kazakhstan in 2022. He is scheduled to visit Asia again later this month, making a 4-day Aug. 31-Sept. 4 visit to Mongolia.

In 2021 the pope, who has openly spoken on several occasions of his desire to be a missionary in Japan as a young Jesuit, named the former bishop of Daejeon, Lazzaro You Heung-sik, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Clergy and gave him the personal title of archbishop, making him the first South Korean to lead a Vatican department. A year later, the pope named him a cardinal.

In his comments to Crux, Choi recalled the pope’s visit to Seoul in 2017, saying it was a joyful occasion.

He said he came to WYD in Portugal “to feel this atmosphere and to experience it. It’s our first time and we’re loving it. And to see the pope.”

Choi said he had seen Pope Francis two or three times before the closing Mass, and “every time is just so exciting and happy, and we’re proud to be Catholic.”

Although the pope has been speaking largely off-the-cuff in Spanish, Choi said he has been able to understand bits and pieces, and that the pontiff’s message is always “very simple, but very powerful at the same time. It’s so easy to understand and it just touches your heart right away. It was so good.”

Fellow pilgrim and Seoul native Seokjin Hong Basilius, who is a seminarian, told Crux that studied Sign Language vigorously before coming to WYD in Portugal and that “in the future I want to preach the Gospel to deaf people, so I learned Sign Language now.”

“During this time, I saw some Sign Language interpreters, and I see and understand what the pope says in the Gospel, so I am very moved and touched,” he said.

Noting how Pope Francis has often spoken of the need to better include people with disabilities in the Church, including their access to the sacraments, Hong said that in his experience, “many people with disabilities actually want to get to know the Gospel even more thoroughly.”

“I think it is really good that World Youth Day is doing Sign Language and I’m thankful that the pope is considerate of those in need. I’m very thankful,” he said, saying he is also excited for the next WYD in his hometown.

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