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Church forum seeks peace, reconciliation on Korean peninsula

Clergy and laity from Korea, Japan and the US discussed Church's role in tackling conflict and climate crisis in the region
Participants of 2023 Catholic Korean Peninsula Peace Forum pose for a photo at the World Peace Memorial Cathedral in Hiroshima, Japan on Oct. 29.

Participants of 2023 Catholic Korean Peninsula Peace Forum pose for a photo at the World Peace Memorial Cathedral in Hiroshima, Japan on Oct. 29. (Photo: Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea)


Published: November 01, 2023 11:15 AM GMT
Updated: November 01, 2023 11:32 AM GMT

Delegates from South Korean, Japanese and the United States bishops’ conferences joined a peace forum to discuss the role of the Catholic Church in promoting peace and reconciliation in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.

The two-phased meeting on Oct. 25-29 was themed “2023 Catholic Korean Peninsula Peace Forum” and held in South Korea and Japan, says a press release from the Korean Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBCK).

Korean Bishops’ Committee for National Reconciliation and the Catholic Institute for Peace in East Asia under the Diocese of Uijeongbu co-hosted the event.

The participants included three archbishops, eight bishops, dozens of priests, and laity from all three participating countries,

They discussed major issues including the environment and nuclear disarmament, food shortages, water shortages, collapse of social infrastructure, economic poverty, health, and sanitation crises arising due to climate change.

The forum aimed to “strengthen solidarity among the Korean, American and Japanese bishops' conferences in promoting peace in Northeast Asia,” the Korean bishops’ conference said.

The forum intended to “explore the role of religion and civil society in reducing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia in the face of the climate crisis.”

The forum also discussed on means to “promote understanding of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the peace-building role of the Catholic Church in achieving these goals.”

The forum meetings were held in South Korea on Oct. 25-27 and in Japan’s Hiroshima World Peace Memorial Cathedral from Oct. 28-29.

Retired Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki presided over the closing mass held at the Hiroshima World Peace Memorial Cathedral on Oct. 29.

Takami pointed out that the long history of the region must be considered during the peace-building process.

"When we think of peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, we must look back at the course of history as objectively as possible,” Takami said.

Takami emphasized the need to “reflect deeply on the responsibilities of the politicians, soldiers, and people who shaped that history, as well as the unspeakable pain and sorrow of countless people.”

Bishop Simon Kim Joo-young of Chuncheon, South Korea, who also chairs the Korean Catholic Bishops' Committee for National Reconciliation lauded the youth for their peace activism during the "Youth Peace Talk" held on Oct. 28.

"When I was a young man, I didn't think about peace and reconciliation. I am grateful for the young people who are thinking about it now,” Kim said.

On Oct. 27, Professor Kim Sung-kyung of the North Korea Graduate University delivered a lecture on “70 Years of Armistice” when he spoke about the Korean War, the armistice, and the aftermaths in the Korean Peninsula.

Bishop Peter Lee Ki-heon of Uijeongbu alleged that peace in the Korean peninsula was unachievable due to “the vested interests of neighboring nations.”

"We have experienced through history that the obstacle to peace on the Korean Peninsula is not only the conflict of interests between the two Koreas or the lack of dialogue,” Lee said.

He added that “the existence of neighboring powers that try to use the Korean Peninsula problem for their own interests," was a stumbling block in the path to peace.

"In this time when peace is threatened, let us think about peace with the eyes of faith while earnestly hoping for peace," Lee further added.

On Oct. 26, the forum discussed nuclear disarmament, the arms race, and the climate crisis in the region.

Hye-Jung Lee, a professor at the Department of Political Science and International Studies at Chung-Ang University, while speaking on the topic of "Nuclear Threat and Arms Race” pointed out that both North and South Korea were contributing to the Russia–Ukraine war.

"As a US ally, South Korea has participated in economic sanctions against Russia and has consistently been asked to provide support [including military] to Ukraine," Lee said.

As "one of Russia's most consistent and committed supporters throughout the Russo-Ukrainian war, North Korea's strategic cooperation with Russia is likely to prolong the war in Ukraine and the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula," Lee added.

The forum also discussed the Israel–Hamas conflict, nuclear weapons, and the threat of nuclear waste among other topics.

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