Church and state officials pay tributes to victims in Jeju Island on March 29 to mark the 75th anniversary of Korean's Jeju Uprising. (Photo: CPBC)
Catholics in South Korea joined commemoration programs to mark the 75th anniversary of the Jeju Uprising and subsequent massacres that left more than 10,000 killed and called for forgiveness and reconciliation.
The Social Pastoral Committee of the Jeju Diocese organized the 2nd Jeju Joy and Hope Forum at the Peace Education Center in Jeju Peace Park, Seoul Archdiocesan site, Good News reported on April 4.
The event on March 29 was a part of commemorative programs to mark the anniversary.
During the program, Bishop Pius Moon Chang-woo of Jeju called on Catholics to work for peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
“As Christians remember the death and resurrection of Jesus 2,000 years ago through Mass, we must pray for forgiveness, reconciliation, justice, and peace to happen here and now,” Moon said.
“This is also the reason why we must continue to talk about the pain of the incident,” the prelate further added.
The event was held in advance of the anniversary on April 3 and was attended by Bishop Emeritus Peter Kang U-il of Jeju, Commissioner Kim Jong-min, writer Hyeon Ki-yeong who wrote Uncle Suni a book on the uprising, and other dignitaries.
The Jeju Uprising was led by communists on the South Korean Island of Jeju after the division of the Korean Peninsula.
The security forces were accused of committing mass atrocities against the rebels since the beginning of the revolt in 1948. It lasted from 1948-1954 and was part of Korea's ideological division following liberation from Japanese colonial rule.
A government committee in 2017 found out that 10,244 were killed during the uprising and just over 3,500 were declared missing while other accounts put the death toll at much higher numbers.
The South Korean government had covered up the incident and it was only in the 1990s that the mass killings were officially admitted by them.
Emeritus Bishop Kang of Jeju pointed out that the Catholic Church and clergy were involved in care for the victims and their family members who still suffer trauma and sorrow.
“People often ask why priests get involved in social issues, but it is because God and church I believe in are fundamentally breathing together and taking interest in those who are marginalized in the deepest part of the world,” Kang said.
“This incident, which was so horrific to the people concerned, is affecting not only the past but also the present and future,” the prelate further added.
The Catholic church in Korea has been vocal in highlighting the atrocities of the South Korean soldiers during the uprising and has urged for peace and reconciliation through various channels.
In 2018, Pope Francis sent a message of healing and reconciliation to Koreans commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Jeju Uprising.
In 2017, the then Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Cheju unveiled a "Vietnam Pieta" -- a statue of a mother and child -- in memory of those Vietnamese civilians killed by South Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Commissioner Kim Jong-min in his address highlighted that the incident was terrible and the plight of the victims cannot be imagined.
"We need to reflect on… what the lives of countless people living today are like," said Kim.
In October 2022, the South Korean government announced its first-ever compensation package of 25.2 billion Korean won (US$18 million) to 300 victims 74 years after the massacre.
According to the compensation policy, a person who was subjected to illegal imprisonment during the uprising can charge the government 366,400 Korean won per day maximum.
The unlawfully imprisoned victims during the uprising are entitled to receive up to 90 million Korean won as prescribed by a special law, and they can claim additional compensation afterward.