Pope to baptise father of South Korea ferry victim

Daejeon - Pope Francis agreed on Friday to baptise the father of one the many students killed in South Korea's ferry disaster as he met with victims' relatives before a mass in the city of Daejeon.

"At the end of the meeting, the father of a boy killed in the accident... asked to be baptised," the pope's spokesperson Federico Lombardi told reporters.

"The pope accepted," Lombardi said, adding that the ceremony would be conducted on Saturday at the Vatican embassy in Seoul.

"It is highly symbolic that the Pope can baptise an adult Korean in a country that registers around 100 000 catholic baptisms a year," he added.

'Great national disaster'

The Sewol ferry capsized on 16 April off South Korea's southern coast, with the loss of 300 lives, most of them high school students on an organised trip.

Francis held a private audience with eight Sewol survivors and two victims' relatives before conducting the mass in Daejeon's World Cup stadium - the first public event of his five-day visit to South Korea.

During the meeting, the relatives urged the pope to support their campaign for a full, independent inquiry into the Sewol sinking, which has largely been blamed on regulatory failings and negligence.

"We told him that we don't put any trust in what the government says and asked him to help us get a true picture of the disaster," said Kim Byeong-Kwon, a spokesperson for the victims' families.

The relatives gave the pope an album of their dead children's photos, as well as a yellow-ribbon pin that he wore on his chest throughout the mass.

The yellow ribbon has become a memorial symbol for the ferry tragedy.

During the mass, Pope Francis offered a special prayer for the victims of what he described as "this great national disaster" and urged those Koreans united in grief to work together for the common good.