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S Korean Church told to lead youth toward unification

Expert at a seminar set aside a leading role for the Catholic Church in reconciliation between North and South Koreas
South Korea's Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho speaks during a press conference at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club in Seoul on Dec. 12, 2023. The Korean war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, on July 27, 1953. Technically, both nations are still at war.

South Korea's Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho speaks during a press conference at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club in Seoul on Dec. 12, 2023. The Korean war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, on July 27, 1953. Technically, both nations are still at war.  (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 08, 2024 10:34 AM GMT
Updated: May 08, 2024 11:22 AM GMT

Experts in South Korea have urged the Catholic Church in the country to lead the way in developing interest among the youth to make practical efforts toward reconciliation and unification with North Korea.

They were speaking at a seminar themed, “The Role of the Church in Overcoming Divisions and Reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula,” organized by the National Reconciliation Committee of Seoul archdiocese on May 3.

The seminar, which consisted of two sessions, was organized as part of the ninth anniversary of the Seoul Archdiocesan Institute for Peace Sharing.

Professor Peter Lim from the Institute of Far Eastern Affairs at Kyungnam National University suggested a mid-to-long-term Church blueprint be developed to include "a Church-wide understanding of North Korea, promotion of reconciliation and unity, and evangelization strategies based on this understanding of the young people who will be responsible for the future."

In January this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had threatened South Korea with war and had abolished agencies that oversaw cooperation and reunification, AFP reported.

In response to the threats, President Yoon Suk Yeol had told his cabinet that should the nuclear-armed North conduct a provocation, South Korea would hit back with a response "multiple times stronger,”  pointing to his military's "overwhelming response capabilities."

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Republic of Korea -- the North and South's official names -- were founded 75 years ago but still technically regard each other as illegal entities.

The often-tense diplomatic relations were managed by Seoul's Unification Ministry and Pyongyang's Committee for Peaceful Reunification -- one of the agencies Kim abolished.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in South Korea along with the other religious and activist groups has consistently called for peace in the Korean Peninsula.

In March this year, a group of South Korean clergy, nuns, and laypeople from four major religions undertook a 400-kilometer journey to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the North Korean border and prayed for peace in the Korean peninsula.

Doctor Felix Nam Kyung-woo of the Peace Sharing Institute spoke on the "Impact of the Korean Peninsula's Division on Society and Culture,” and alleged that regimes that came into power after the military coup used anti-communism as a governing strategy.

"Anti-communism acted as a kind of filter to separate citizens from 'non-citizens,' and the people who experienced this process had to strive to avoid being singled out as non-citizens,” Nam said.

"While the division is being treated as a thing of the past, it still has a powerful influence on our society," Nam warned while adding that “there is still fear and anxiety about North Korea, which is linked to the division.”

Korea was ruled by the Joseon dynasty from 1392 to 1897 before Japan annexed the nation from 1910-1945 which ended with Japan’s defeat in World War II and surrender to Allied forces led by the Soviet Union and the US.

Korea was then split into two with the North occupied by the communists backed by the Soviet Union while the South sided with the US.

Korean reunification failed due to Soviet and US disagreements, leading to the Korean War (1950-53) when the North invaded the South.

An estimated 3 million people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 1.5 million were displaced.

The war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, on July 27, 1953. Technically, both nations are still at war.

Jeong Wook-sik, head of the Peace Network, pointed out that an “'emergency armed reunification theory' for [a] peaceful settlement on the Korean Peninsula,” was impractical.

“The Korean Peninsula's divisive system is increasingly converging toward militarism, and regardless of the change of regime, the theory is strongly diverging,” he warned.

*-- This story is brought to you in partnership with the Catholic Times of Korea.

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