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Street Performances Bring Attention To Church Pro-Life Movement


November 14 2003

A Catholic pro-life movement in South Korea has taken its message to the street to further its campaign to eliminate abortion, capital punishment and human cloning.

On the evening of Nov. 8, a parade and other activities centered at Marronnier Park in the bustling Daehangno area in Seoul attracted crowds of curious onlookers. The sound of "pungmul," a traditional Korean folk ensemble that combines rituals, music, dance and acrobatics, filled the air as campaigners distributed pro-life literature.

The parade was organized by the "Life 31 Movement" of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of Korea. The movement, which promotes the importance of human life, is currently running a campaign called "Life, One More."

With the pungmul band leading the way, a parade of approximately 100 people endured a light drizzle as they wound their way through the district for 30 minutes and returned to the park.

Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, retired archbishop of Seoul, and Bishop Peter Lee Ki-heon of the Military Ordinariate took part in the parade.

After the parade ended, Cardinal Kim told the audience in the park that life is an irreplaceable gift from God. "Society is full of death such as suicide and abortion, and yet there is nothing we can gain from this waste," he said.

He explained his participation in the "Life, One More" parade by saying, "If just one person in the street pays attention and thinks of the word ´life´ and understands its meaning, it is worth my effort." Every person "should be aware of the importance of human life in the image of God," he added.

The "Life 31 Movement" was launched Feb. 7 this year. The name originates from the fact that this is the 31st year since the Mother and Child Health Law was enacted in 1972. This legislation permits abortions for a wide variety of cases.

Bishop Peter Lee Ki-heon, moderator of the movement, said that since the law took effect, "abortion has been done often without any hesitation by mothers and medical personnel."

He called abortion "the worst violence in the world," insisting that war itself is less cruel than abortion because "the aborted unborn children outnumber those killed in war."

According to him, about 4,000 unborn babies are aborted every day in Korea, or about 1.5 million a year.

The Life 31 movement aims at abolishing the Mother and Child Health Law, the death penalty and human cloning.

According to an official at the Ministry of Justice, the number of people currently facing the death sentence is 55 but there has been no execution since 1998, when former president Thomas More Kim Dae-jung, a Catholic, took office.

Last year, the Catholic Church in South Korea criticized a government bill allowing limited research on human embryos.

The pro-life message was appreciated by some in the crowd who did not expect it. A teenage girl, who came to the park with her friends "just for fun," told UCA News she didn´t know the purpose of the performance but was drawn to it "because of the parade and the music." On learning of the campaign´s objectives, she said it is "quite a good campaign to save more lives in a society where suicides happen so often."

Father John Bosco Hong Chang-jin, in charge of implementing the "Life 31" programs, told UCA News, "Since the Mother and Child Health Law was gazetted, the Church has steadily opposed the act -- which legitimizes abortions -- and has demanded a revision of the law."

He admitted that the Church´s earlier attempts, without first forming pro-life public opinion, were unsuccessful.

"From a negative anti-abortion campaign, we moved to a positive life-culture campaign asking for one more life," he said. The movement is also supported by other religions.

The "Life 31 Movement" has proposed five steps to achieve its objectives. Until 2007, each year will focus on one aspect of the campaign. These aspects are: campaign for social recognition, establishing a culture of life, international network building, personal recognition of life and a sustainable pro-life environment.

Father Hong, also secretary of the Korean bishops´ Committee for Promoting Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue, told UCA News, "With support from other religions, we will boost the pro-life campaign by following the five-year plan."

Venerable Song Wol-ju, former chief executive of the Chogye Order, the country´s largest Buddhist denomination, and Protestant Reverend Kang Won-ryong, honorary president of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, were appointed as goodwill ambassadors for the movement along with Cardinal Kim. Besides the three religious leaders, 22 public figures representing various sectors of society promised to act as goodwill ambassadors.