Catholic singers to spice up papal Masses in S. Korea

S. KOREA - As Pope Francis prepares to make his way to Korea for his first papal visit, several renowned Korean singers will lend a hand in welcoming the pontiff by performing at major events during his five-day stay from Aug. 14-18.

Internationally acclaimed soprano Jo Su-mi and veteran singer Insooni, both devout Catholics, will stage special performances during the Mass on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, to be held at the World Cup Stadium in Daejeon on Aug. 15.

Jo is scheduled to perform a number of compositions significant to the Catholic Church. One selection is Gounod's "Ave Maria," a piece based on the Latin text of a Catholic prayer asking for the intercession of the Virgin Mary.

The French composer Gounod is also known for having written a requiem for the Catholic missionaries of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, martyred for carrying out evangelic activities in Joseon-era Korea.

The soprano will also perform Ennio Morricone's "Nella Fantasia," the theme from "The Mission," a 1986 film about Jesuit missionaries in 18th-century South America, on Friday as well.

"I came to love Pope Francis after being drawn in by his frugal nature and beautiful greetings. It has always been my wish to sing in front of the pope, and now that hope has been fulfilled," said Jo in an interview with the press.

Alongside Jo, renowned singer Insooni will perform her signature hit "Goose's Dream" in memory of the victims of the Sewol ferry accident, one of the country's worst peacetime disasters.

The pope is expected to console the surviving students and bereaved families of the victims of the accident during a meeting to be held shortly after the Aug. 15 Mass.

Later that day, the pope will head to Daejeon Catholic University to meet with the participants of Asian Youth Day, an international gathering of the region's Catholic youths.

K-pop singer BoA, the event's official ambassador and a devout Catholic as well, will join the youths representing 17 Asian countries in meeting with the pope during a luncheon.

On the next day, veteran pianist Paik Kun-woo will stage a special performance at the beatification Mass on Aug. 16 to take place in the streets of Gwanghwamun Square, where as many as 1 million are expected to convene.

The pianist will play "St. Francis of Assisi Preaching to the Birds," an eight-minute piano score composed by Franz Liszt on a Steinway D-274 grand piano.

Liszt wrote the piece after being inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron Catholic saint of animals from whom Pope Francis also took his papal name.

"When Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung asked me in January about what I should play for the pope, this was the song that immediately came into my mind. It could not be anything else," said Paik, known to be a devout Catholic.

"The pope is a saint who lives for those who are poor and suffering. I cannot help but respect him. ... He is someone who is far yet feels so close to us," the pianist added.

Meanwhile, many Catholic celebrities have been collectively stepping up their efforts to help the Korean Catholic Church publicize the pope's visit.

Last month, more than 20 A-list celebrities gathered at Seoul's Myeongdong Cathedral to sing in a music video for Pope Francis. The single "Koinonia," a Greek word for fellowship, celebrates the Holy Father's five-day visit to Korea.

Among those who participated in the event were actress Kim Tae-hee from KBS drama "Iris," actor Kim Woo-bin from SBS' "The Heirs," actress Kim Ha-neul from SBS' series "A Gentleman's Dignity" and singer Bada.

Pope Francis will arrive at the Seoul Air Base on the morning of Aug. 14 and participate in several key events over five days. He will conclude his apostolic voyage with a Mass for Peace and Reconciliation on Aug. 18.