By Justin McLellan, Catholic News Service
LISBON, Portugal (CNS) — World Youth Day is returning to Asia in 2027 and will be hosted in Seoul, South Korea.
Pope Francis announced the location Aug. 6 to some 1.5 million pilgrims who attended the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon.
“The next World Youth Day will take place in Asia. It will be in South Korea, in Seoul,” he said to cheers from the estimated 1,000 South Korean pilgrims, many of them proudly waving their country’s flag.
“In 2027, from the western border of Europe, (World Youth Day) will move to the Far East, and this is a beautiful sign of the universality of the church and the dream of unity of which you are witnesses,” the pope said.
Pope Francis prefaced his announcement by urging young people to travel to Rome in 2025 to participate in youth celebrations during the jubilee year, when Vatican officials expect more than 30 million pilgrims to flock to the Eternal City.
The pope’s decision marks the second time the international gathering of young people will take place in Asia. In 1995, an estimated 5 million people attended World Youth Day in Manila, Philippines, with St. John Paul II.
Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick of Seoul said at a news conference Aug. 6 that while it is unrealistic to expect millions to participate in Seoul’s World Youth Day, he anticipates many young foreigners — Catholics and not — will come to South Korea for the event drawn by their many cultural offerings, including K-pop, the popular Korean music.
Archbishop Chung said he hoped to achieve similar participation numbers as World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney — about 300,000 — which also involved a significant number of foreigners traveling to the country.
“World Youth Day is not just a Catholic event, it is a global celebration and a platform for interreligious encounters,” he said speaking through a translator. He also acknowledged the “immense challenge” of welcoming young people around the world to Seoul but said that South Korea is a highly efficient country capable of hosting the event.
The archbishop said the next World Youth Day “aspires to become a radiant beacon of unity embracing the rich culture of East Asia.”
The event would be the first time World Youth Day is held in a Christian-minority country. Catholics make up an estimated 11% of the country’s population — about 5.7 million people — according to a 2020 report from the Korean bishops’ conference.
Pope Francis traveled to South Korea in 2014 to beatify 124 Korean martyrs at a ceremony in Seoul.