05/15/2014, 00.00
KOREA

Hurting over S Korean ferry sinking, Christians and Buddhists hold vigils and prayer to comfort each other

Joseph Yun Li-sun
Catholics, Protestants and Buddhists have set up a camp near the port on Jindo Island not far from where the Sewol ferry sunk with 476 people on board. As families continue to wait for news about those still missing, they find comfort in prayer and listening. The government charges the captain and three officers, whilst the head of the ferry company is holed up at home, surrounded by members of his 'Salvation Sect'.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - In an attempt to comfort survivors and family members waiting for their loved ones still missing after the sinking of the ferry, South Korean religious groups are holding a daily interfaith prayer vigil.

Open to Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Won Buddhists, a temporary camp for worship temporary stands, off in a tiny corner of Paengmok Port on Jindo Island, near where the Sewol sank on 16 April with 476 people on board, killing 281, mostly school kids on an outing.

Although the government has formally charged the captain and three other officers of manslaughter, the families of the 23 missing continue to suffer. A group of mothers continues to come at dawn to stand on the edge of a pier staring at the sea [pictured, parents calling the names of their loved ones, imploring them to come home).

"They wait for news from the authorities but they also hope that the sea will return the remains of their loved ones," a Buddhist monk said.

As the sound of the Buddhist moktak (wooden gong) echoes, three practitioners performed hundreds of bows to its beat.

Kim Su-hyun, a 43-year-old from Daejeon, visited a portable prayer room set up by the church, praying for around ten minutes before bursting into tears.

"I just feel so sorry," Kim said. "Those young people in the flower of their lives were thrown into the water before they had the chance to blossom. I prayed for them to go to a better place."

Buddhists set up their tent near the Protestant tent. "Frustrated family members of missing Sewol passengers come out to the seawall to look at the ocean in the early morning, and they end up coming to the tent where we have a Buddhist service together," said Geumgang, head monk at the Mihwang Temple in Haenam.

"We came because we felt so sorry and upset that these children were sacrificed because of the greed and foolishness of adults," explained one of the sweat-drenched Buddhists.

Kim So-won, a Won-Buddhist minister, said he performs the "prayer of liberation and deliverance" five times a day for the victims.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the disaster has taken a religious twist. A group of about 300 people blocked last night the entrance to ferry owner Yoo Byeong-eon's home.

All of them are members of the 'Salvation Sect', a self-styled Christian group that has about 100 churches across the country and claims 200,000 members but fails to teach forgiveness.

As founder of the sect, Yoo is thought to be behind the company that owned the Sewol. Since the start of the investigation, he has been in hiding to avoid the prosecutors, but has tried to stir his followers, claiming that he was being persecuted on religious grounds.

On 9 May, the Attorney General of Incheon subpoenaed him and his children, all elders in the sect, formally charging them with tax evasion, stock manipulation and complicity in culpable disaster.

However, all of the family members have ignored the order and are holed up in their home.

For their part, victims' families have begun boycotting products made by companies linked to the sect.

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