by Jonathan Petre ONE OF Pope John Paul's most successful, gruelling, foreign visits is scheduled to end tomorrow when he arrives back in Rome after a brief but significant visit to Thailand.
During the 24,000-mile tour of four Far East countries, the Pope has shrugged off death threats, addressed the crowds in Korean and pidgin English, and been greeted by cheering thousands wherever he travelled in his bulletproof 'Popemobile'.
His most unusual and colourful welcome came from the natives of Papua New Guinea, a Pacific island one and a half times the size of Italy, when he arrived at Port Moresby on Monday. A group of grass-skirted natives in feathered headdresses surmounted with crosses, danced, sang and beat their drums as he descended from the plane.
Among the 20,000 worshippers at a Mass in the city were dancers and singers from three tribes, the Waima, the Roro and the Mekeo, who have all been converted to Catholicism. Most were bare-footed, bare-chested women in grass skirts. many were brightly tatooed and wore bones and sticks through their noses. The Pope's message throughout the eleven-day tour has focused on the theme of reconciliation; political, ecumenical and spiritual.
On his arrival in Seoul, capital of South Korea, after meeting President Reagan in Alaska the Pope reiterated his can for the reunification of North and South. The country was divided into separate regions at the end of the Second World War.
Calling himself "an apostle of peace", the Pope said: "The tragic division of a oncepeaceful people imposed from without, the deep wounds from the Korean conflict, and further tragedies of more recent years — all this cannot, however, dampen or break your will to overcome obstacles and to be reunited again as one happy family."
He arrived in South Korea amid fears that his fife might be in danger from terrorists, and security precautions were stepped up by the police.
Anti-government protests at three universities in Seoul were broken up by police with tear gas, but the most frightening moment for the Pope came during a drive through crowds on Saturday, when a deranged student fired a toy cap pistol at the motorcade. The Pope was reported to have smiled after the incident but Cardinal Stephen Kim of Seoul, who was accompanying him, appeared terrified.
Reconciliation was again the theme when the Pope visited the city of Kwangju last Friday, where in 1980 hundreds had died during antigovernment demonstrations. Later in the day he spoke to several hundred leprosy victims and asked them to offer their sufferings, in union with Christ's, for others.
In Kwangju, the Pope celebrated Mass before a crowd of 65,000 packed into the city's sports stadium. "I am keenly aware of the deep wounds that pain your hearts and souls from personal experiences and from recent tragedies, which are difficult to overcome from a merely human point of view, especially for those of you from Kwangju," he said.
In the afternoon the Pope flew by helicopter to Sorokdo, an island 700 yards off the coast which houses 2,400 victims of leprosy. "To the unspeakable question 'Why me'? Jesus offers the Living answer of his own death on the cross," the Pope said in a brief sermon, "for he suffered entirely for others giving himself in unending love."
The highpoint of the South Korean visit was the canonisation ceremony of 103 Korean martyrs presided over by the Pope — the first time that such a ceremony has taken Place outside the Vatican since the thirteenth century.
Thunderous applause echoed across the plaza on Yoido Island, in the Han river, as the Pope arrived for the Mass, the culmination of his fiveday visit to the country which is celebrating the bicentenary of the arrival of Catholicism. The Pope smiled and waved as the crowd of 600,000 sang a special hymn, "You are Peter."
In his sermon, he paid tribute to what he called the unique character of the arrival of Catholicism in Korea and the circumstances that led 10,000 early Catholics to be martyred before religious freedom was declared in 1886.
Later that night he met young people packed into a gymnasium, and heard their complaints about the society in which they lived. The Pope was handed statements which expressed dissatisfaction with work conditions, the lack of free speech and the lack of human rights.
In response the Pope praised his questioners for being "full of ideals and hopes."
At the beginning of the week, amid new fears that terrorists disguised as journalists might attempt to assassinate him, the Pope arrived in Papua New Guinea and blessed the country's "great rivers, high mountains and deep valleys".
Before his return to Rome, Pope John Paul was scheduled to visit the Solomon Islands, to say Mass. During his visit to Thailand, the last stop of the tour, he planned to visit the Buddhist patriarch and a refugee camp in Phanat Nikhom.