Lent, a ‘bridge’ for interfaith dialogue in Seoul
by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
Fr Kim Jeong-nam organises a series of Friday lectures until Easter at his parish church of Ilwon-dong, in the South Korean capital. Successful among the faithful, the initiative is praised by a Won Buddhist leader. The president of the Episcopal Commission for Inter-faith Dialogue tells AsiaNews that “hand in hand” we can reach “understanding”.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – Fr Kim Jeong-nam, the priest of the Ilwon-dong Parish Church (Seoul Archdiocese), has organised a series of lectures to emphasise the importance of the period of Lent and help inter-faith understanding and social awareness in South Korea. The series includes a number of guest speakers from other religions.

“Peace among religions can be obtained only if we walk hand in hand with respect and understanding,” said Mgr Igino Kim Hee-jong, the newly appointed president of the Episcopal Commission for Inter-faith Dialogue and Christian Unity. “It ought not be a silence achieved through force. This is why we must get involved in every initiative to raise awareness and respect for other faiths.”

“A ‘circle of religions’ exists in Korea,” the prelate said. It is “a large group that allows its members to know and meet other men of faith. However, in this circle, there are often clashes caused by lack of knowledge about each other.” Therefore, “We must find ways to meet and share our experiences.”

Fr Kim’s initiative seems right for that. Each Friday evening, he and leaders from other religious denominations come together in the hall of his parish church for hear lectures and comment passages from the Bible and other religious texts. This is followed by a discussion. The series has been met by considerable success among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Choi Seong-deuk, a venerated leader in Won Buddhism (one of Asia’s foremost Buddhist movements), surprised his audience at one meeting.

“To prepare this lecture I visited the holy grounds of Jeoldu-san,” he said. The site, which now has a museum and a shrine, saw hundreds of Korean Christians undergo martyrdom, their bodies torn to pieces that were tossed into the Han River.

“I prayed there and discovered to my great surprise that the Catholic church does not only hold 103 martyrs, but many more,” Choi said, “people without a name who bore witness on many occasions.”

Together with Andrew Kim Taegon, the martyrs were canonised by Pope John Paul II.

“In Won Buddhism, we consider true happiness as the basis for a good life,” he explained. “We can achieve this only if we give more than we receive in a spirit of brotherhood. This concept is the same as charity in Catholicism”.

During the series of meetings, which will end on Good Friday, other respected South Korean religious leaders are expected to come. They include Imam Lee Ju-hwa, Rev Muksan of the Bong-eun Buddhist Temple and Rev O Won-bae of the Protestant Church.