Geopolitics

One Of Us - Latin American Youth Meet *Their* New Pope Up Close

Brazil is filled with young people wrapped in the flags of their different countries -- but mostly South American. Pope Francis meets his flock at the World Youth Day event.

Youth from all over the world at the 2013 World Youth Day
Youth from all over the world at the 2013 World Youth Day
Silvina Heguy

RIO DE JANEIRO - The steady and sticky rain, which seemed to come from the sea, turned to a joyful mist around 7:45 pm. That's when the beach was turned into an open-air Church.

“World Youth Day has now begun,” said the announcer, and thousands of flags from every country were raised. Volunteers carried an image of the Virgin Mary onto the stage. Behind them, another group carried a wooden cross, “the youth’s cross,” a gift passed down from Pope John Paul II. When the cross reached the top of the altar, more than five-stories high, it was raised further. And thus marked the beginning of Pope Francis’ mission in Latin America.

Official figures said that the crowd of pilgrims was more than 100,000, with Rio"s Atlántica Avenue shut down since 2 pm. A power failure had paralyzed the subway and the lines to reach the coasts with thousands of pilgrims went on for meters. People stood in line for almost two hours before the service re-started.

And yet, nothing seemed to be a problem for all those who came to be a part of an event that the Catholic Church has been organizing as a direct encounter between the Pope and the young faithful every two or three years since John Paul II launched the idea in 1984.

This time, the weeklong encounter, has a particular meaning. It coincides with the beginning of Pope Francis’ papacy as the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires attempts to give Catholicism a new impetus in his home region of Latin America.

Just another man

In the middle of the beach, amongst flags from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, United States, Lebanon, and many others, you could find Nahuel Zuleta. He is a 20-year old Philosophy student from Argentina who had arrived with 60 others from Buenos Aires.

Francisco brings hope”, Nahuel explains. “Hope that one can change the world from a place of humility when he says that he wants a poor Church for the poor.”

From Lincoln, just outside of Buenos Aires, came a group of 50. They'd left their parish by bus on Thursday and had gotten to Rio three days later. You couldn’t tell how many miles they’d travelled by looking at Marcos Martínez. For him, arrival of the Argentine Pope at the Vatican “changed the relationship with the people more than anything. What is striking is that he is different from the Curia (hierarchy), that he is just another man. He's shown that this should be the norm.”

At that point, the giant screens reflected the Mass passages. The stage could be seen covered in red and blue. People walked holding hands to avoid getting lost. The bars by the coast were full. The day has passed without any major problems, with most left in wonder at the human tide that had greeted Pope Francis upon his arrival. Everyone at the beach seems to have seen him up close.

“The Pope wants to be near the people,” said Sao Paulo’s Archbishop, Cardinal Odilo Scherer. In fact, the Pope’s security and the people’s proximity to him had been part of the controversy of the day. However, it seemed far from the young pilgrims’ minds that night as they filled the beach.

Carlos Gutiérrez, another Argentinian, was wrapped in a flag to protect himself from the mist. “Francisco generated change, but he is only the leader of the Church," he said. "The Church is all of us, the young and the old, and we all have to contribute.”

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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