08/14/2004, 00.00
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Korean bishops: "Pray to Mary that the country be united and at peace"

by Pino Cazzaniga

Seoul (AsiaNews) – In their messages for the Feast of the Assumption, Mgr. Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, Archbishop of Seoul and Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang, and Mgr. John Chrisostom, Bishop of Andong, urged Christians to work for reconciliation and, with Mary's help, God's peace in Korea.

Their messages, respectively entitled "Love conquers all," and "Mary sings peace in the Kingdom of God", carry greater weight if we consider what August 15 represents for all Koreans, north and south, Christians and not. It is the day of Japan's unconditional surrender and Korea's freedom and independence. Thanks in part to the West it is also a day that marks a new era of suffering and division.

 "As believers," writes Archbishop Cheong Jin-suk, "we must fully commit ourselves to peace and unity between the two Koreas." For Bishop Kwon Hyok-ju reconciliation and unification of the people of Korea must be the priority for building peace in the country. For years Catholic bishops, other Christian and Buddhist leaders have called for reconciliation as a stepping stone for national reunification.

Events in the last few months such as mass defections from the North, half-hearted but ongoing intra-Korean contacts, and the "Six-nation" talks in Beijing are signs that history might be at a turning point. Hence, the urgent need for the thoughtful participation of the people.

Devotion to Mary is intense in South Korea. One can see Marian icons, often in Korean style, in the gardens that adorn the foreground of almost every church. The oldest ones are often replicas of the grotto in Lourdes. This is easily understandable for the first parish priests in the country were French missioners sent over by the Missions étrangères de Paris.

The only officially recognised Korean sanctuary is that of Namyang, in Suwon diocese. It draws many pilgrims who come to the place where, in 1866, Christians were martyred. It was officially dedicated to Our Lady in 1999.

The Diocese of Suwon has close to 570,000 Catholics out of a total population of 6.4 million people.

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