High hopes of 'Panmunjom Declaration' from historic meeting of two Korean leaders at DMZ
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (right) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un smile as they head to Peace House in the village of Panmunjeom on the Demilitarized Zone that has separated their two countries since the 1950-53 Korean War, during their historic inter-Korean summit on April 27. (Photo provided by the South Korean government)
South Korean church leaders welcomed the results of the historic April 27 inter-Korean summit held at the truce village of Panmunjom on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that has separated the two countries for 65 years.
"The Panmunjom Declaration is very important as it opened the way for peace and reunification through complete denuclearization," said Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul on April 30.
"I welcome the efforts of the two leaders to take the initiative in encouraging both sides to lay down their guns and hold hands in the name of peace. I expect to see sustainable peace finally restored to our lands," he added.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were seen smiling and holding hands as they crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and later enjoyed a banquet together with their wives.
It marked the first time a North Korean leader has crossed into South Korean territory in decades and comes on the heels of Kim's recent trip to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, a close ally and sponsor of the regime.
Kim is due to meet U.S. President Donald Trump next month, who recently tweeted that he would also like their meeting to occur on the DMZ.
Singapore and the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar have been raised as other potential venues.
The prospect of the upcoming meeting has sparked considerable interest given that not long ago, the two leaders were threatening to attack each another with missile strikes.
No sitting American president has ever met a North Korean leader.
Moreover, Trump famously called Kim "Rocket Man" in one tweet as tensions escalated, with Kim responding by calling Trump a "dotard" in another colorful exchange.
The script has since changed, buoying hopes of a nuclear-free peninsula and increased exchanges of families divided by the war as a preliminary move to what some church leaders expect may one day be a reunited Korea.
"I believe the blaze of the Holy Spirit has not blown out," said Cardinal Yeom, who accepted the role of apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, despite not being unable to travel to the communist country.
"Still there are faithful who meet God in their deep prayers, who remember the grace of the sacraments and who long for God. I will pray for the day when I can meet the faithful of Pyongyang Diocese and offer a liturgy with them."
The two Korean leaders capped the summit by announcing the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula.
They pledged to work together to end the Korean War, which is technically ongoing as the bitter trench fighting ended with the signing of an armistice, and usher in a new era of peace.
They also committed to reconciliation, peace, prosperity and improved inter-Korean relations as the world has watched a series of aborted efforts to this end in recent decades, including a failed attempt at a joint Korean industrial zone.
However the goal of supreme importance to Trump and other players in Asia and the rest of the world is to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons after a series of high-profile nuclear tests by North Korea in the past few years.
Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong of Kwangju, who serves as president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, was also keen to praise the results of the summit.
"A new [chapter of] history has begun in terms of coexistence and peace on the Korean Peninsula [with this event] marking the end of our long history of confrontation and struggle," he said on April 29.
"I hope … this will be a stepping stone for the peace in Northeast Asia and the whole world," he said.
"What is important for peace is that we smash our prejudices against each other through mutual understanding. This would be bolstered by enhanced exchange among religious people," he added.
"For our part as Catholics, we will contact the Korean Catholic Association and seek out opportunities for further exchanges."
Bishop Lazarus You Heung-shik of Daejeon, who serves as chairman of the bishops' Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs, said the summit was a God-given opportunity to initiate dialogue and embark on the path to reconciliation. "Now it is our mission to help fulfill the declaration," he said.
"Christians should do our mission as God's workers to help the two Koreas reunify."
Pope Francis also commented on the historic meeting on April 29 after leading a prayer at St. Peter's Square.
"I accompany with prayer the positive success of last Friday's Inter-Korean Summit and the courageous commitment assumed by the leaders of the two sides, to engage in a course of sincere dialogue for a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear arms," he said.
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