10/20/2006, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA – NORTH KOREA
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Caritas to "continue work for people in North" after nuclear test

The decision was taken at the end of a two-day meeting at the headquarters of Caritas Internationalis. Participants told AsiaNews that charity means unconditional love and that the mission of the Church, "as repeated several times by the Holy See", consists in being close to those who suffer. The North Koreans were given copies of Deus Caritas Est.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Caritas "will press ahead with its work for the North Korean population" despite the nuclear test carried out on 9 October. This work will continue "even if Pyongyang makes good its threat to undertake more tests. It does not matter what sanctions are decided by the international community, we will go ahead." This is because "charity means unconditional love: the mission of the Church, as repeated several times by the Holy See, consists in being close to and comforting in any way possible the most vulnerable of human beings."

This was the outcome of a meeting that took place on 18 and 19 October at the headquarters of Caritas Internationalis in Rome. The meeting was called to decide what to do about aid and development projects run by the Catholic organization for North Korea, in the aftermath of the announced nuclear test.

AsiaNews interviewed two participants: Fr Paul Jeremiah Hwang Yong-yeon, director of the Korean Caritas and Fr Gerard Hammond, superior of the Maryknoll missionaries in Korea. Among other participants were representatives of Caritas Germany and Hong Kong.

Fr Hammond, who goes to North Korea twice a year to monitor aid sent by Caritas, said: "Two days after the nuclear test, a Caritas delegation went to the Gaesong industrial complex in North Korea despite requests from the South Korean government to cancel the visit. This was because we at Caritas all follow the same principle: we will continue our humanitarian work for the most vulnerable Korean people, independently of sanctions that may be imposed on Pyongyang to force the regime to return to disarmament talks.

Throughout this visit, "we gave as a gift two copies of the encyclical of Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, to the North Koreans: they read it and we discussed its contents together. They said that thanks to this, they understood our mission." The delegation was also allowed to celebrate mass on North Korean territory, "the first in a long time".

Fr Hammond, who translated the words of Fr Hwang too, said: "The decision to continue was taken because the Korean peninsula is inhabited by one people, who have the same roots and the same language, and it is composed by members of the same family. Korea is the last country in the world to suffer from the divisions created by the international tensions of the fifties and sixties."

He continued: "The sorrow of the division between north and south is still there. 'We are one people', say Korean inhabitants but the problem is that there are other powerful influences, with different interests, that divide them: the only victim of this, however, is the population. Perhaps the suffering of the South Koreans are different from those of their brothers in the north but both are suffering a lot."

Commenting the statements released in these days by politicians around the world, Fr Hammond said: "If diplomatic tension should lead to the closure of the borders by Seoul, we are sure we will be able to find other ways of taking our help. In any case, we continue to work to use the same channel. I don't think it is enforceable, for the South, to stop helping their brothers".

Caritas, he said, "coordinates four large groups that help the people in the north: Caritas Korea, the Justice and Peace Commission of the bishops, the Commission for Reunification and the superiors of several religious orders of men and women." Together, "they manage food, cultural, health and education programs. It is fundamental to understand that we are in control of everything we send: we monitor where our goods arrive and where they end up. We know our efforts are directed towards those who are really in need. Caritas goes where there is the greatest need."

About Pyongyang's nuclear test, Fr Hammond said: "As an individual, I think these things are a sort of call for help. The point here is that those who are really calling for help are the people who suffer." Fr Hwang, speaking as a "Korean citizen", also recalled the "bombings in the Korean war" and stressed that "such sorrow should not happen again".

Another reason why future work is not endangered is because it is based "on the full support of Catholics around the world". Fr Hwang said: "Perhaps some of our donors may withdraw their funds as a 'punishment' for the nuclear provocation, but this does not really count because in the big Caritas family, there is always someone ready to help those in need, to show Christian compassion."

He added: "Caritas means love. In this context, love is unconditional. Only the Korean population knows how to come out in this situation. In all these years, these people have lived with parents and brothers on the other side of the border. No one could imagine condemning his own family to death".

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