Pope Francis delivers speech in English before leading 800,000 in Seoul open-air mass

But the Pontiff's busy schedule forced him to skip out of evening prayers 

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The Independent Online

Over 800,000 people attended a huge open-air Mass in the centre of Seoul, South Korea, led by Pope Francis, where he beatified 124 early Korean martyrs on Saturday.

Hundreds of thousands waited for hours to see the Pope on the third day of his visit, during which he has also met survivors of the Sewol ferry disaster and delivered his first public Mass in the region.

On Friday, the Pope also tested out his linguistic skills by delivering a handful of speeches in English, telling the audience: "I have a great difficulty. I have poor English."

The beatification ceremony took place at the Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, where Catholics who refused to repent were taken before they were publicly executed.

Beatification is the last step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

During the sermon, he told the crowd: "Their example has much to say to us who live in societies where, alongside immense wealth, dire poverty is silently growing; where the cry of the poor is seldom heeded and where Christ continues to call out to us, asking us to love and serve him by tending to our brothers and sisters in need," he said.

"They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for.''

Later, he flew by helicopter to a hilltop centre for the sick, disabled and homeless run by the church in the town of Kkottongnae, southeast of Seoul.

There, he comforted sick children and adults, some of them severely disabled and disfigured and in wheel chairs, and declined to use a comfortable white, padded chair that had been prepared for him. "I like to stand," he said. Bowing to local tradition, he removed his shoes as he entered the centre.

The Pontiff was forced to cut his journey short, saying: "I've got a little problem. If there's one thing you should never do, it's skip your prayers, but today we'll have to do it alone and I'll tell you why: I came by helicopter, and if we don't take off in time, there's a danger we might smash into a mountain."

Additional reporting agencies