07/20/2010, 00.00
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Religions united for the environment against Four Major Rivers Restoration Project

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
Catholics, Protestants and Buddhists are working together to stop the project. Strongly backed by the South Korean government, the scheme could destroy the ecosystem of the country’s major river systems. Masses, demonstrations and prayer vigils are held for strictly religious reasons.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – The campaign against the ‘Four Major Rivers Restoration Project’ promoted by the government of President Lee Myung-bak is picking up speed as South Korea’s religious communities, including Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Won Buddhists, get more involved. For analysts, this unexpected union lies in the nature of religion itself, which is about preserving life and transcending material values. In South Korea, religion-centred environmental groups have in fact been growing since the 1990s.

The first examples of inter-faith cooperation against the government project include the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK), the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) along with about a hundred Won Buddhist officials and the Jogye Order.

Following the first public protests, inter-faith coalitions have organised an array of events, including public masses, worship activities and purification ceremonies.

At a mass held in the main hall of Seoul’s Myeongdong Cathedral on Monday, some 2,000 priests and believers got together to unanimously call for an end to the project.

The government project includes a series of works that would affect the country’s four largest river systems. One of them would lead to the construction of a grand waterway, a project rejected in 2008 by the Diocese of Incheon, which would link Seoul and Busan, creating a 540-kilometre channel connecting the Han and Nankdong Rivers.

Critics say the project would threaten the country’s drinking water and environmental balance. For the government, it would be instead a unique way to free the country’s highways from excess lorry traffic and would breathe new life into its tourist sector.

So far, the government has allocated US$ 18 billion for the project, money opponents say is wasted.

Recently, priests and believers met in Yangpyeong County, near one of the rivers involved in the grand scheme, for a night vigil. The government responded by deploying thousands of anti-riot police.

Every day, believers, young and old, offer prayers to save the “rivers of life” in the capital’s churches.

Rev Yang Jae-seong, secretary general of the Christian Environmental Solidarity Movement for the Integrity of Creation, said that the convergence of religious groups “stems from the fact that the proper role of religion is to preserve and save life.”

“All of the destruction of life and the developmentalism that we have witnessed over the years require much in the way of repentance,” Yang said. The “religious sector has stepped forward proactively because it can no longer stand by and watch the forceful push for the development of the four rivers.”

“The priests leading the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project opposition campaign are a far cry from the ‘movement types’,” said Maeng Joo-hyung, head of the education department of the Archdiocese of Seoul’s Environmental Pastoral Committee.  The religious expression of love for Creation finds embodiment in the “fervour of Catholic opposition,” which includes “as many as 300,000 signatories against the project”.

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