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Catholics called to pray for peace as inter-Korean summit looms

Hopes that leaders of two Koreas will bring 1950-53 Korean War to a formal end at historic meeting

Catholics called to pray for peace as inter-Korean summit looms

South Korean Bishop Peter Lee Ki-hyeon of Uijeongbu, president of the Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People (CBCK), has high hopes of the rapprochement efforts being made by Seoul and Pyongyang, who remain technically in a state of war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire and an armistice only. (Photo by The Catholic Times)

Published: April 20, 2018 03:45 AM GMT

Updated: April 20, 2018 03:46 AM GMT

Bishop Peter Lee Ki-heon of Uijeongbu has been waiting years for this moment, with the leaders of the two divided Koreas poised to meet for a historic summit just inside South Korean territory on April 27.

The president of the Korean Bishops' Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People released a statement on April 13 expressing his belief that it will end decades of struggle and open a new era of peace on the peninsula.

"Now the Korean Peninsula is entering an important time of turbulence," Bishop Lee wrote in the statement titled, "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

"With the inter-Korean summit, as well as the ensuing summit between North Korea and the U.S., expectations are growing that the 65-year-long confrontation and struggle will end and a new era of peace will come," the statement read.

Decades after the bitter Korean War ended in a ceasefire, this will be the third major inter-Korean summit to date.

It comes in the wake of former president Kim Dae-jung meeting "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in 2000, and Roh Moo-hyun following in his predecessor's footsteps by venturing to the North Korean capital in 2007.

But both of those meetings ultimately went nowhere, with the signs of rapprochement crumbling only to be replaced by threats of war amid occasional volleys of gunfire across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries.

Bishop Lee expects the upcoming summit will bear more fruit, aided by the prayers of parishioners.

"Our prayers are making an incredible miracle through God, who makes the impossible possible," he said.

The Korean Catholic Church declared its "first of year of peace" in 2015 while commemorating the 70th year since Korea broke apart. That campaign saw Catholics come together to pray for peace every day at 9pm.

Bishop Lee in his April 13 statement asked parishioners to keep faith.

"We still have many obstacles to overcome during the upcoming [diplomatic] dialogue. Please keep praying for everlasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. Our solidarity in prayer will be a solid cornerstone for peace," he said.

He also entreated Catholics to check the "hostile" attitude that has crept into Korean society since the end of the Korean War.

"Due to the long 'Cold War' era in Korea, the hostile attitude against others has become deeply rooted in our society, and the church is not free from this scourge," he said.

"The sense of struggle and divisiveness inside South Korean society is a huge obstacle to the future [success] of the Korean people."

Yet with North Korea making good on its promise to engage with the leaders of China, South Korea and the U.S. after it sent athletes to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this year, change may be imminent.

The upcoming summit will mark the first time a North Korean leader has set foot inside South Korean territory in decades, as dynastic head of state Kim Jong-un is due to meet incumbent South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the ROK side of the Joint Security Area just south of the DMZ.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) is South Korea's formal name.

While much of the recent thaw in diplomatic relations has been cloaked in secrecy, it indicates a strong de-escalation following months of rhetoric between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump as both threatened each another with missile strikes.

Shortly afterwards, Kim made a secret visit to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in the first week of April, his first trip outside North Korea since taking over the leadership.

Moreover, it recently came to light Trump sent the head of the CIA on an equally secret meeting with Kim a few days later to pave the way for a summit of even greater significance between Trump and Kim, which is expected to take place some time in May.

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