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Pope greets, consoles Korean ‘comfort women’

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Pope Francis has blessed and consoled a group of women who were used as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II.

Francis greeted each of the seven women, most in wheelchairs, at the front of Seoul’s main cathedral Monday at the start of his final Mass for peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.

He was given a pin from one of them which he immediately pinned to his vestments and wore throughout the Mass.

In an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the encounter, Lee Yong-soo, 86, said she hoped the meeting would provide some solace for the pain she and the other “comfort women” still feel more than seven decades after they were forced into sexual slavery.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Pope Francis is wrapping up his first visit to Asia with a Mass for peace and reconciliation in Seoul’s cathedral attended by the South Korean president and a handful of North Korean defectors.

Organizers of the papal trip had invited a delegation from the North to attend Monday’s Mass, but Pyongyang authorities declined. Organizers said there would be representation from the North in the form of defectors, former abductees and about 30 priests and nuns who received their religious training in the North but moved south before the war.

During the Mass, Seoul’s archbishop was to dedicate a “crown of thorns” to the pope made from barbed wire taken from the demilitarized zone. “That they may be one” reads the inscription.

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