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KKOTTOGNAE, South Korea -- Pope Francis has long been a stickler for setting aside enough time to pray, getting up at 4:30 a.m. daily. But he sheepishly asked to skip evening vespers on Saturday after he ran behind schedule during a day that saw him celebrate a Mass before about 800,000 people in Seoul, then travel 55 miles to a South Korean community that cares for disabled people.
"I've got a little problem," he told the crowd. "If there's one thing you should never do, it's skip your prayers, but today we'll have to do it alone and I'll tell you why: I came by helicopter, and if we don't take off in time, there's a danger we might smash into a mountain."
Francis had three meetings scheduled consecutively in the community of Kkottognae, and by the time he hit the second one -- a vespers service in Latin and Korean and speech to some 5,000 nuns -- he was running out of time.
The crowd erupted in laughter once Francis' Italian apologies were translated into Korean.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the reason Francis was behind schedule was absolutely justified: He took extra time to greet and bless each of the 60 or so disabled children and elderly residents of the Kkottognae community, lingering to caress the cheek of one woman in a vegetative state and embrace anyone who wanted a papal hug.
"This was more important for him, and for us I think," Lombardi said.