05/04/2018, 12.10
KOREA-VATICAN

Card. Yeom: I hope to go to Pyongyang soon

by Thomas Han*

The inter-Korean summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un opens up prospects for peace and unity for the entire Korean people. Families divided by the war meet. Opportunity for the Korean Church to offer a greater commitment to aid and interpersonal relations with the North. Seoul has never forgotten to pray for the North and its martyrs. An interview with the archbishop of Seoul and apostolic administrator of Pyongyang.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The inter-Korean meeting between President Moon Jae-in and leader Kim Jong-un raises in Card. Andrea Yeom Soo-jun a great sense of gratitude to God and to the people who made it possible. He tells AsiaNews that since he is not only the Archbishop of Seoul, but also the Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang, he is eager to be able to go to the northern capital, to meet the Christians left behind and to celebrate mass with them.

Following the Korean War, the Church was destroyed in the North up and many priests, nuns and lay faithful died as martyrs. Card. Yeom affirms that the faith of the Catholics of the South is indebted to the testimony of the faithful of the North: "Our freedom in living the faith is also due to their prayer and their sacrifice". He hopes that soon a resident priest may be sent to Pyongyang, to offer the sacraments to the faithful left in the North. The Cardinal believes "firmly that the fire of the Holy Spirit has always remained alive in the North". He also encourages the meeting of the families divided by the war, and promises to increase humanitarian aid from the South to the North, so that they can not only exchange material goods but also meet people. Here is the full interview.

Eminence, what are your first impressions of the inter-Korean meeting in Panmunjom?

 

Looking at the South-North summit, my heart was filled with a deep gratitude to God who always remembers our prayers, to the Blessed Virgin Mother of God who takes care of our people, to the last Popes who have urged the responsible authorities to solve problems through dialogue, asking all the peoples of the world to pray for this intention. I especially thank Pope Francis, who has invited all the peoples of the world to support every attempt at dialogue on the Korean peninsula. I therefore thank all the peoples of the world who have prayed for peace on the Korean peninsula.

How do you gauge the results of the meeting?

The most significant result of this summit, I would say, is the summit itself, in the sense that it seeks to verify that dialogue is the only morally valid instrument for building lasting peace on this peninsula, overcoming the current contraposition. This summit, the third of its kind after the division between the South and the North, is only the first step on the road to true peace on the peninsula. It is very significant that it may have finally paved the way to peace and unification through the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. I sincerely hope that this summit will serve as an important driving force for the true peace of the whole Korean people.

The summit is not just a geopolitical move, but also involves humanitarian problems. Which are the most important?

Since true peace is based on living a fully human life, the solution of humanitarian problems is very important. Among the agreements emerging from this summit, I consider the resumption of the meetings of families separated by the Korean war, in the last 65 years, very positive. We have lived this harrowing reality for too long a period of time. About 700 thousand people in the South were separated from their families in the North, without any possibility of communicating with each other. It is more or less the same is for people in the North. In the past, some 130,000 people in the South have asked the government to meet their families in the North. Over half of them, that is over 70 thousand people have already died in the meantime. As far as I know about 57 thousand people are still alive and many are over 80 years old. Yet, due to political reasons, they were not even allowed to communicate with each other, not to mention the possibility of meeting their families in the North, except in rare moments of political agreement between South and North. Since 1985, 20 meetings of separated families have been organized. Each time this meeting lasted more or less 12 hours divided into three days. It is heart-breaking to see that families feel even more pain after such meetings.

I believe that the meeting of separated families can serve to heal the scourges of the division and promote peace. I therefore believe that the authorities of the South and the North will have to make every effort to ensure that this meeting is not limited to an event, once in a while, but takes place often and continuously, taking into account the age of members of these families.

In addition to the topic of separated families, the question of humanitarian aid is important as it involves contacts between people from the South and the North. Humanitarian aid should not be limited to the delivery of material goods, but rather should involve the meeting of people, the face-to-face encounter between people, the sharing of love and hope, and the union of hearts in people . The archdiocese of Seoul has always tried to do its best to carry out in one way or another various aid projects for the poor, the sick, the elderly, the infants and the children of the North who are in need. We will continue to expand these projects in quantity and quality, trying to really serve the recipients and implement the sharing of peace through intrapersonal contacts.

In addition to humanitarian aid, how does the Southern Church carry out its commitment to the North?

 

Prayer constitutes the alpha and omega of the Church's commitment to pursuing reconciliation, unity and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Prayer unites us all in one and makes our lives centered around God. Thus, it makes us brothers and sisters.

In the last 23 years, the faithful of our archdiocese have never failed to celebrate Mass for reconciliation of our people on a regular basis, at 7.00 every Tuesday evening in the cathedral of Myeong-dong, in Seoul. Especially in recent years we have celebrated this Holy Mass with the further intention of keeping in our hearts and praying for the parishes that were active in the North before the country was divided. Before the Korean war in the North there were 57 active parishes, with 52 thousand faithful and many priests, religious and lay people who gave their lives for the faith with martyrdom.

Especially after the visit of Pope Francis to Korea, our archdiocese has started a new project, that is a prayer campaign entitled "A parish of the North in my heart" which intends to revive in prayer the memory of martyrs and faithful of the Church in the North who took care of the Church with their total faith, until the last moment, spreading the peace of Christ in the North, and then to realize true peace on the Korean peninsula.

We continue to pray with a slogan: "One is alive as long as he is remembered; prayer will be fulfilled if it is persistent ". I humbly ask all of you to pray for the Church and our brothers and sisters in the North.

You are also Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang. How do you carry out this role?

Last year in the cathedral of Seoul we celebrated the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the diocese of Pyongyang. Unfortunately, I, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Pyongyang, have never been able to set foot in Pyongyang. But every day I pray the rosary, asking for the intercession of Mary Immaculate, so that the Lord may grant grace in abundance for the Church in the North and for the lay faithful who still live their faith there in some way.

I firmly believe that the fire of the Holy Spirit has always remained alive in the North. On the contrary, it is burning even more intensely in times of difficulty. I firmly believe that thanks to the Holy Spirit many faithful still hold the memory of sacramental life, that is, of life in God, begging Him to help them live a life in full faith in the Church as soon as possible. In a sense, our freedom to live the faith is also due to their prayer and their sacrifice.

I too deeply desire to be able to visit them as soon as possible and to celebrate Holy Mass, thanking and praising God together. It is my fervent hope that as soon as possible we can send them priests to administer the sacraments and live with them and for them.

 

* Former Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Holy See.

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