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South Korea

Korean Catholics honor victims of 1980 democracy uprising

Archbishop Kim reminds Catholics that the Gwangju movement sowed the seeds of democracy in the nation

UCA News reporter, Seoul

UCA News reporter, Seoul

Published: May 26, 2021 08:48 AM GMT

Updated: May 26, 2021 11:46 AM GMT

Korean Catholics honor victims of 1980 democracy uprising

A memorial Mass to commemorate the 1980 Gwangju Democracy Uprising is held in Daegu in South Korea on May 18. (Photo: Archdiocese of Daegu)

Catholics in South Korea joined commemorative Masses to honor hundreds of people killed during a pro-democracy uprising in 1980 as church leaders called for an official apology for the massacre.

The Justice and Peace Commissions of the archdioceses of Gwangju and Daegu organized special Masses to commemorate the Gwangju Democratization Movement.

“The truth about the Gwangju Democratization Movement must be fully presented to the nation, and those responsible for extreme atrocities should sincerely apologize,” said Archbishop Kim Hee-jung of Gwangju in his sermon on May 18.

The archdiocese marked the 41st anniversary of the movement with the Mass and debate attended by some 300 clergy, religious and laypeople.

Archbishop Kim asked Catholics to look back and evaluate if Koreans are living in the spirit of the movement more than four decades ago.

The prelate noted that the movement of 1980 sowed the seeds of democracy in South Korea.

It was like the path that Jesus undertook by sacrificing his own life for us

“We must be aware about the spirit of Gwangju because democracy in Korea sprouted from it. It was like the path that Jesus undertook by sacrificing his own life for us,” Archbishop Kim added.

The Gwangju Uprising was a pro-democracy public uprising from May 18-26, 1980, in the city of Gwangju against the military dictatorship of army general Chun Doo-hwan, who grabbed power following the assassination of President Park Chung-hee on Oct. 26, 1979, and ruled South Korea under martial law until 1988.

Park Chung-hee was military dictator who staged a coup in 1961 to take power. He led the country as its third president from 1963 to 1979 before his assassination, allegedly planned by the top brass of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.    

The Gwangju movement was initially waged by students of Chonnam University protesting about martial law rule, triggering a heavy crackdown by government forces. Many protesters were killed, injured or raped.

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Enraged by the violent attacks, hundreds of citizens of Gwangju joined the protests and attempted to resist the aggression by robbing armories and police stations.

The military government retaliated with a brutal response and it is believed about 600 people were killed during the massacre. The military regime blamed communists and their sympathizers for the rebellion.

Chun Doo-hwan stepped down from power following democratic reforms and a presidential election in 1987. He was sentenced to death in 1996 for his role in the 1980 massacre but was pardoned by President Kim Young-sam.

In 2011, UNESCO recorded the Archives of the 1980 Democracy Uprising stored in Gwangju city hall as a documentary heritage in its Memory of the World Register.

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