Seoul (AsiaNews) - "We Christians cannot play the role of Pilate, washing our hands [. . .]. We must be involved in politics", but "it is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organisation of social life," said Mgr Andrew Yeom Soo- jung, archbishop of Seoul, following the controversy sparked by remarks made by Fr Park Chang-shin about South Korean politics.
In reaction to the clergyman's statement, a group of veterans tried to storm the capital's Myeongdong Cathedral, but were held back by police, which is deployed around the building. A bomb scare forced the archdiocese to close its premises as a precautionary measure.
Everything began last Friday when Fr Park celebrated a Mass to ask President Park Geun-hye to shed light on alleged election fraud and interference by the country's intelligence services in its social and political life.
During his address, Fr Park talked about the "process of creating an enemy", and South Korea's undemocratic climate. Towards the end, he also noted that it was natural for North Korea to attack Yeonpyeong Island because the South and the US held military exercises near its sea border.
These remarks outraged the government and President Park's ruling Saenuri (Conservative) party, leading to an investigation of Fr Park.
South Korean nationalists also launched a campaign against the Catholic Church. Two days ago a bomb scare forced the Archdiocese of Seoul to close Myeongdong Cathedral as a precaution, and the offices of the archdiocese were inundated with protest calls.
Some Catholics started to have "doubts" about their faith. Yesterday, a group of about 700 people - all members of the Korean Veterans Association - tried to force their way into the cathedral after a protest lasting hours. Police stopped them and then surrounded the building.
A Catholic source in Seoul told AsiaNews that when "the air is unbreathable, we all feel under siege. Now in the streets, some people look askance at priests. This is really a bad time."
"We Christians," the Archbishop said quoting the Holy Father, "cannot play the role of Pilate, washing our hands of it. We must be involved in politics because politics is one of the highest forms of charity, for it seeks the common good. Working for the common good is a Christian's duty; and often the way to work for that is politics. There are other ways: being a teacher, for example, teaching is another route."
The prelate noted that, according t the Catechism of the Church, "it is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organisation of social life."
Pope John Paul II's 'Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests' says that priests taking an active role in political parties may "constitute a grave danger of division in the ecclesial communion".
Hence, "Priests must act upon careful consideration," the archbishop explained. "We should walk on the road of truth, of common good, and of peaceful coexistence with other people. Instead of the division and contradiction, we should seek reconciliation, understanding, forgiveness, and love."
(Stephany Sun, from the Archdiocese's Social Secretariat, contributed to the article)