ASIA/SOUTH KOREA - Tensions between North and South Korea: Catholics pray for reconciliation and national unity

Wednesday, 19 June 2024 peace   wars   human rights   dialogue   prayer  


Seoul (Agenzia Fides) - Since 1965, the Korean Church has celebrated June 25 as the Day of Prayer for Reconciliation and National Unity. It is a special moment in which the entire Korean Catholic community gathers in prayer in a special way to implore true peace between North and South Korea and to pray for reconciliation and national unity. This day is all the more important and timely because relations between North and South Korea are currently farther from peace and reconciliation than ever before. All channels of dialogue are closed and the military agreement of September 19, 2018, which was intended to prevent accidental clashes, has been partially suspended by the Seoul government. This agreement aimed to reduce tensions along the inter-Korean border by eliminating anti-personnel mines, guard posts, weapons and personnel on both sides of the border, as well as by establishing joint military buffer zones. The Seoul government notes that North Korea continues to conduct missile tests and military exercises and has stated that it considers inter-Korean relations as those between "two hostile, warring countries," recalling that the Korean War (1950-1953) ended with a ceasefire, not a peace treaty. The recent "incidents" at the border have caused a stir in the international media: South Korea said that North Korean soldiers had crossed the border - albeit accidentally - while building fortifications in the "demilitarized zone," the heavily fortified strip of land that separates the North from the South; this was the second incident in two weeks. The South Korean army fired warning shots over a loudspeaker. It is alleged that North Korea has deployed large numbers of troops into the "demilitarized zone" to prevent the construction of new fortifications or the laying of landmines. The tensions between North and South Korea have also taken an unusual turn, that of a kind of "psychological warfare." Photos published by the media show inflated balloons launched from Pyongyang carrying a mixture of garbage and dung after landing. South Korean authorities have warned residents of border areas and urged them to avoid contact with these objects. Such launches not only a breach of decency but also a clear disregard for international regulations, according to South Korean authorities, who denounced such acts as "inhuman and vulgar." North Korea said these actions were a direct response to anti-North Korean leaflets thrown across the border by South Korea. The leaflets and loudspeaker speeches contain messages criticizing the North Korean regime and calling on citizens in the North to dissent. In this situation, the South Korean government is emphasizing its "Cold War" style military power on opposing fronts (North Korea, China and Russia on one side, South Korea, the United States and Japan on the other). "What can we do now that inter-Korean relations are on the brink of collapse?" asks Bishop Simon Kim Jong-gang, Chairman of the National Reconciliation Committee of the Korean Bishops' Conference. "What we can do is our own conversion," he repeats. It is a matter of "reflecting on whether we have really treated our brothers in North Korea as 'compatriots' during these years of division. We must begin our new path with a humble heart and a spirit of sincere conversion. For true unity can only be achieved if we strive to change ourselves by welcoming and approaching others with understanding."
In this spirit, the faithful in South Korea have begun a special novena in preparation for the Day of Prayer for National Reconciliation and Unity, which also includes the holding of two symposiums. The novena of prayer, which began on June 17, will continue until June 25 in all parishes in the country, with each congregation praying the same "Prayer for Reconciliation and National Unity" published by the Bishops' Conference before and after each Mass. Tomorrow, June 20, a symposium on "The Catholic Church and Peace Education" will be held in the auditorium of the Seoul Cathedral Complex. Professor Julia Kim Nam-hee of the Catholic University of Korea will speak on "Catholic Civic Education and Peace," while scholar Beatrice Seo-jeong Son will speak on "Youth and Peace Education." Another conference entitled "The Path of the Faithful to Peace on the Korean Peninsula," organized by the Archdiocese of Seoul, will take place on July 25 and is intended to express the willingness of Catholic laypeople to work for the improvement of inter-Korean relations. Bishop Simon Kim Joo-young said: "I am concerned because we see the hope that conflicts can be resolved through dialogue and cooperation almost disappearing, because it seems that only security through the use of military force is at the forefront." In a very difficult situation, "we must ask God for help and the laity must take the initiative" to restart dialogue and peace, he hoped. Ahn Jae-hong, president of the "Korea Catholic Lay Apostolate Association", says in this context: "As a Catholic, I cannot accept that one only insists on 'peace through force' while the horrors of the war between Ukraine and Russia and the war between Israel and Hamas are visible to all. We will raise our voices to demand and work for an improvement in relations." In 2024, the 74th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War that led to the consolidation of the division of the Korean Peninsula, inter-Korean relations seem to be at their lowest point, but the Korean people do not forget that they are "one people" and recall the past 70 years of dialogue, cooperation and coexistence. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 19/6/2024)