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Praying for a peaceful peninsula

Religious initiatives could hasten reconciliation on nervy, divided hotspot

Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong presents bibles at Changchung Church in Pyongyang Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong presents bibles at Changchung Church in Pyongyang
  • Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • October 12, 2011
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Except for Korea, is there any other country where people of the same language, history and traditions are so divided by conflicts that have caused so many political, economic and social problems?

In an effort to mitigate these conflicts, representatives from seven religions within the Korean Conference on Religion and Peace decided to visit North Korea last month, knowing that keeping the peace on the peninsula is important for the present and future of all Koreans.

The delegates, religious people who most cherish reconciliation and peace, agreed to pay more attention to relations between the two Koreas.

To this end we delivered our message of peace in Korea to authorities in the North prior to and during our visit from September 21 to 24, the first such endeavor by leaders of all seven religions.

I believe that if such initiatives by religious people facilitate various exchanges and help the peace process on the peninsula, they will also contribute to peace across Asia and throughout the world.

On September 23, a day after we met members of the (North) Korean Council of Religionists, religious people from the North and South traveled together up Baekdusan mountain, a sacred place for all Koreans, and prayed together for peace.

An old tradition holds that “three generations of your family must accumulate virtue if you want to see the top of Baekdusan mountain under a clean sky.”

There was such a sky when we reached the top of the mountain. A North Korean woman serving as one of our guide told us that we would be blessed. “It is hard even for us to see such a clean sky.”

It was then that I thought God had heard our wish for unification and had indeed blessed us. I prayed that the peninsula would be filled with an atmosphere of peace and unification.

On the morning of the day we were set to return to Seoul, I visited Changchung Church in Pyongyang, the only Catholic church in the North, and was warmly welcomed by 30 or 40 North Korean Catholics.

I entered the Church and said the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and Glory with them. I also gave a short homily stressing the meaning and importance of faith, prayer and love for neighbors.

After the homily, I gave them Seonggyeong, a Catholic translation of the Bible, and the Korean Bible with Annotations.

When I found the parishioners’ baptismal list, the photo of Pope Benedict XVI and the chalice given by the late Pope John Paul II in the sacristy, I prayed that Mass could be offered there as soon as possible.

Wishing at least on the Catholic’s four Solemnities that such a Mass would be celebrated by North and South Korean Catholics together, I returned home.

Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju is the president of the Korean Conference on Religion and Peace and the Korean bishops’ Committee for Promoting Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue
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