Korea's bishops at 38th parallel church to pray for peace
The pilgrimage for the unity of the Korean people was led by the president of the Bishops' Conference 70 years after the armistice: they prayed before the Eucharist at the closest Catholic place of worship in Pyongyang. In a message, concern over renewed tensions and the risk of nuclear escalation: "Resumption of dialogue, not deterrence with weapons, are the way to peace."
Seoul (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church in South Korea is dedicating June to prayer for peace commemorating the 70th anniversary of the 1953 armistice, which ended the fighting with Pyongyang leaving behind the wound of a divided country.
Against this backdrop, on June 6 a delegation of the country's bishops made a significant symbolic gesture by making a pilgrimage together to the JSA Church, the small church that has stood since 2019 in Paju, South Korea's Gyeonggi Province, in the demilitarized zone (JSA) that along the 38th parallel marks the de facto border with North Korea.
The pilgrimage was led by Bishops' Conference president Bishop Mathias Ri Iong-hoon of Suwon. Inaugurated in 2019, the JSA Church recalls in architectural style the Portiuncula, the church of St. Francis in Assisi, precisely to bring its message of peace to a place scarred by war.
After meeting with military personnel serving in the border area and celebrating Mass, the bishops paused in adoration before the Eucharist in what is in fact the closest church to North Korea.
Explaining the significance of the gesture to reporters Msgr. Ri Iong-hoon commented, "With the desire for unity between the North and the South, we prayed for the reconciliation of the Korean people and for a peaceful atmosphere to be achieved as soon as possible."
Of the new tensions that are marking relations with Seoul and Pyongyang, the bishops speak in a message titled "Let peace reign in your hearts (Col. 3:15)" released these same days.
The text is signed on behalf of the bishops' conference by Seoul Archbishop Msgr. Peter Chung Soon-taek, chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission (who as archbishop of the capital is also apostolic administrator of Pyongyang), and Chunchon Bishop Msgr. Simon Kim Ju-young, chairman of the National Reconciliation Committee.
"The conflict between the North and the South," the bishops write, "is not new because the war never really ended, but these days we are again faced with a serious crisis. Prevailing is the view that 'peace' can only be preserved by force. North Korea's missile tests continue, and military exercises between South Korea and the United States in response have been massive. Dialogue to find a peaceful solution has long ceased and the vicious cycle of armed demonstrations continues. In addition, communications between the North and the South have been disrupted, and the possibility of an incident turning into an accidental armed conflict is of great concern."
The message specifically mentions the possibility of nuclear conflict, evoked by Pyongyang in its September nuclear weapons decree, but also by U.S. President Biden's promise to his South Korean counterpart Yoon to respond with U.S. nuclear weapons in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack.
"If we want to avoid war and reduce military tensions, we must restart serious talks," the bishops write. Although the path may be long and arduous, we cannot give up our efforts for peace on the Korean Peninsula. For God "through Christ has reconciled us to himself and entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). Therefore, we believers, following the example of Christ, believe that forgiveness and reconciliation efforts are paramount and are confident that true peace can be achieved through trust. Sincere encounters, dialogue and efforts at mutual understanding, not high-tech weapons and powerful military forces, are the way to peace."
With this intention, the Korean Catholic Church invites all the faithful to join in prayer especially on July 27, the 70th anniversary of the armistice, when a special Mass for peace will be celebrated in Seoul at Myeongdong Cathedral.