Pope Francis rounded off the first papal visit to Asia in 15 years with a call for peace and the reconciliation of North and South Korea.
But the timing of his mass in Seoul coincided with the start of annual large-scale US-South Korea military drills, which usually angers its neighbouring state.
North Korea turned down an invitation for members of its Catholic Association to attend the service, citing the start of the exercises. However a group of defectors from North Korea attended, alongside the South Korean President Park Guen-hye.
Pope Francis, speaking at the Myeongdong Cathedral, said: “Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounters and the resolution of differences … and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people.”
In recent weeks, North Korea has carried out a series of short-range missile tests and has now threatened a “merciless” strike in retaliation for the South Korean drills.
The two Koreas are technically at war, after no peace treaty was signed to end the 1950-53 Korean conflict.