ASIA/SOUTH KOREA - From a ceasefire to true peace: Christmas marked by reconciliation with the people of North Korea

Monday, 18 December 2023 peace   christmas   wars   reconciliation  

Seoul (Agenzia Fides) - On the occasion of Christmas, the Korean Catholic community extends its thoughts, prayers and a deep desire for peace and reconciliation to its compatriots in the North: in the year of the 70th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War (1950-1539). Archbishop of Seoul and Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang, Peter Soon-taick Chung, in his Christmas message, expressed the hope that "the joy of Christmas can fill the whole world, bringing hope and strength especially to troubled nations, including our compatriots in the North, and to all those in our society who are poor, marginalized and in need of comfort." The Church in South Korea expresses the desire that Christmas 2023, the year in which the end of the war will be commemorated, will be an opportunity to conclude a real peace treaty, replacing the still valid agreement on the mere cessation of the conflict.
After World War II, Korea was divided into two parts: the democratic South secured the support of the West, while the communists took control of North Korea with the support of China and Russia. The war between North and South Korea broke out in 1950. In 1953, the military commanders of the United States, North Korea and China signed an armistice agreement that called for a "complete cessation of hostilities and all acts of armed violence pending the achievement of a final peaceful solution." This agreement remains the only legally binding mechanism that maintains peace on the peninsula, even if it is not yet secured. North and South Korea have reaffirmed their validity under the pact signed in 1991, the so-called "Basic Agreement," which affirms non-aggression and mutual cooperation. However, in 70 years, all efforts to replace the temporary ceasefire with a real peace agreement on the peninsula have failed. In this situation, Catholics in South Korea have worked intensively over the decades to overcome past conflicts and achieve lasting peace. In particular, the "Committee for Reconciliation" of the Archdiocese of Seoul, which strives for "a common future of coexistence and prosperity" and seeks "innovative solutions", reaffirms "the commitment of the Catholic Church as a mediator and promoter of reconciliation with the aim of achieving peace on the Korean peninsula". The effort to overcome the logic of the ceasefire also finds broad support among other Christian churches: Rev. Hong-Jung Lee, a Korean Protestant pastor and former general secretary of the ecumenical National Council of Churches in Korea, points out that "the peace and justice approach on the Korean peninsula is based on a 'work of healing and reconciliation'." The awareness of mutual dependence and a path of "self-emptying" are "spiritual pillars that support this work," he emphasizes. "Healing and reconciliation are at the heart of life of God and the service of every baptized person. Without a continuous process of healing and reconciliation, there will be no integration of justice and peace," says Lee. The pastor recalled the importance of the personal meetings between Christians in North and South Korea that have taken place in the past at international ecumenical events within the framework of the World Council of Churches, and reported that he had several opportunities to meet with leaders of the North Korean organization “Korean Christian Federation” (KCF). "If we look at the history of the Korean people from the perspective of God's saving action in the world - and that is the perspective of Christmas - the division of the Korean peninsula is not the end of the history of the Korean people," Lee said. The division is rather, “a man-made desert, a violation of the will of God. The path of healing, reconciliation, justice and peace will lead to a life-giving reunification of the Korean people." With this in mind, Lee advocates replacing the 1953 armistice "with a peace treaty that ends division and the Cold War mentality "overcomes war and paves the way for stability and brotherhood". The Christian churches, said Father Lee, are called to be “at the forefront” of peace on the Korean peninsula: ecumenical prayer movements, meetings and seminars on peace education, promotion of human rights, initiatives to raise awareness of demilitarization and nuclear disarmament, charity, cooperation and development for the needy population in the north. Pope Francis addressed a group of Korean pilgrims at the Vatican on September 16 and called on them to "rediscover your vocation as apostles of peace in all areas of life" and to be "witnesses of reconciliation" because "the future is built not with the violent force of weapons, but with the gentle force of closeness". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 18/12/2023)