Survivors, Victims’ Families of Sewol Tragedy to Meet With Pope Francis on Friday


A group of 10 Sewol ferry survivors and victims’ relatives will be meeting privately with Pope Francis during his much publicized trip to South Korea, their representatives told reporters on Wednesday. During the 30-minute meeting scheduled for Friday, they plan to ask for the Catholic Church leader’s aid in pressuring the South Korean government to set up an independent inquiry into the maritime tragedy that killed 304 people.

A legislative bill calling for this inquiry is currently stuck in the National Assembly because of disagreements between the opposing political parties about the extent of the inquiry’s legal power.

It has already been four months since the sinking of the ferry, but victims’ relatives complain that they still do not know the full truth behind its capsizing—a national catastrophe for which several people now stand trial, including the ferry’s crew. The victims’ relatives and their supporters hope to capitalize on Francis’ high-profile, five-day trip to Korea.

The spokesman for the victims’ families Yoo Kyung-geun told various media, “We are hoping to explain ourselves and why we are still fighting like this nearly 120 days after the accident … and ask for his encouragement.”

Hundreds of victims’ relatives are also planning to occupy one end of Seoul’s central Gwanghwamun Square plaza, where Pope Francis is leading mass on Saturday. Though the area is reserved for thousands of attendees of the mass, there has been no official statement on police action to move the protestors.

Kim Young-oh, whose 17-year-old daughter died in the ferry sinking, has emerged as a symbol of this protest, as he passed his 30-day fasting mark on Tuesday in an effort to pressure South Korean President Park Geun-hye to pass the ferry legislation.

“I want the entire international community to know the facts about this tragedy as well as put pressure on the South Korean government to investigate, so they can pass the law the families really want,” he told the National Catholic Reporter. “I want to know why my daughter died.”

The Catholic Church announced that it would not move the protestors, and several priests and sisters have set up their own tents in support. There may be no better day for the protestors to gain such large-scale public attention to their cause than when Pope Francis holds mass in central Seoul, an event to be covered by hundreds of foreign media.

Kim, noting Pope Francis’ strong support of human rights, said he has faith that the papal leader will be able aid their cause. He said, “I beg the pope — I beg him — to put pressure on the Park government to begin an independent investigation. I know Pope Francis focuses on human rights. He is a good man. I think he can pressure the Park government.”

Photo via National Catholic Reporter