Catholic deacons in front of the Seoul Central Mosque in Itaewon district, Seoul, South Korea on June 22. (Photo by The Catholic Times of Korea)
Over 100 Catholic deacons in South Korea made a pilgrimage to places of worship for other religions in Seoul from June 20-22 to promote religious tolerance and understanding. The 108 transitional deacons joined a three-day event dubbed the Ecumenical and Interreligious Pilgrimage of Catholic Deacons organized by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK). They visited the CBCK's headquarters, the Vatican Apostolic Nunciature in Korea, St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, Seoul Anglican Cathedral, Hwagyesa temple of the Buddhist Jogye Order, the Won Buddhist Temple in Gangnam, and the Seoul Central Masjid (mosque). "The CBCK organized the pilgrimage so the deacons could better understand the different religions in Korea," said Father Stephano An Pong-hwan, the CBCK's communications director. "By visiting [these places of worship] and experiencing the culture of other religions, they can widen their understanding of other religions and different Christian denominations." During the visit to Korea's largest mosque on June 22, Song Bo-ra, an official with the Korea Muslim Federation, said Islam is often misunderstood as a religion of violence due to its association with extremist groups like the Islamic State (IS). "The Quran says, 'Whoever kills a person [unjustly] — it is as though he has killed all mankind'," he said. "But Islam is a religion of peace not violence. That's why we always greet people with the salutation, 'As-salamu ʿalaykum,' which means 'peace be upon you'." Jesuit Deacon John Lee Heun-kwan said the visit to the mosque was an effective way of creating greater understanding. "It was a good chance to experience another religion and break down barriers and prejudices," he said. "Especially when talking about Islam, I feel we can coexist harmoniously through dialogue as we have many things in common. I don't see it as a threat." Imam Lee Ju-hwa, who preaches at the mosque, hailed the pilgrimage as a example for others to follow. "We feel graced to have had the soon-to-be ordained Catholic deacons visit us with such open minds," he said. "Their efforts to understand other religions will serve as a small step toward world peace."
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