12/17/2004, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Christmas trees in a Buddhist temple to honour Jesus' birth

Seoul (AsiaNews/UCAN)  - A Buddhist temple in South Korea is celebrating Christmas by decorating and illuminating two Christmas trees so passers-by can see them.

Gwaneum (Avalokitesvara) Temple in Taegu, 230 kilometers southeast of Seoul, has been honouring the birthday of Jesus Christ since 1998 by having its own faithful light the trees.

This year, 300 Buddhists came on Dec. 11 for the lighting ceremony. Besides the trees, a placard wishing "Congratulations on Jesus' Birthday" was placed on a temple wall. The seven-story wooden temple has been modernized as a "classical type" temple with modern facilities, including elevators.

Lee Ki-yeol, a temple official, said: "Our temple-goers have not complained about the Christmas trees for seven years. They like having them in the compound." The 45-year-old Buddhist also said that the temple in past years invited Catholic priests and Protestant pastors to take part in the tree lighting, and they came.

The ceremony usually would take place around Dec. 22, but it was advanced to Dec. 11 this year to accompany an event to help poor children. Lee said that is why Catholic priests or Protestant pastors had not been invited this year.

He added: "Our temple is the first Buddhist temple in the country to organize such an event. Observing the birthday of Jesus through Christmas trees symbolizes interreligious harmony."

Lee Ji-hyun, head of the temple's youth group, decorated the trees with her group members. She told UCA News she does not think young people are indifferent to other religions. "People have different faiths, but they respect each other and work for peace, to go beyond their own faith to seek religious harmony," the 21-year old university student remarked.

In South Korea, of a population of 46.8 million,  Buddhists make up 23.1 per cent; Christians account for 26 per cent, Catholics 6.6 per cent.

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