06/21/2004, 00.00
south korea - north korea
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Prayer and charity for reconciling the two Koreas

by Monica Romano
Seoul (AsiaNews) - Talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis have not left Catholic South Koreans indifferent.  Despite threats of invasion, the nuclear crisis and pressure of refugees from the North, the South Korean Church has always shown its strong desire for reconciliation and peace for 70 million Koreans, by helping the North Korean population through prayer and charity.  Parishes, members of the faithful and religious communities, and organizations continue to raise funds and emergency supplies to send to North Korea, in response to the conditions of poverty afflicting the country.  "This is a first and important concrete step which shows our care and concern for our North Korean brothers, as we are not yet able to send personnel to deal with matters directly on the ground," Suor Maria Yim, a South Korean religious of the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepard in Seoul tells AsiaNews.  Prayer too is fundamental.  "Each year," Sr. Maria Yim adds, "the entire Church organizes a prayer novena for the reconciliation of the Korean people.  This year the novena will be prayed from the 18th to the 27th of June."   Since 1965, the Sunday closest to June 25th -- the day in which the Korean War (1950-53) broke out -- is dedicated to "the day of prayer for reconciliation and unity" with Masses and meetings in every diocese of South Korea.  Since 1989, a Mass is celebrated once a year in the demilitarized zone along the border between the two Koreas.  Since 1993, a novena with rosaries, prayers and Masses is held in every South Korean parish and diocese.  "The South Korean Catholic Church has changed its mediation role in society, by avoiding political discussion.  Nevertheless our commitment is total, in terms of prayer and charity, the means typical to Christians.  In terms of relations with North Korea, we have chosen the fraternal way in concretely and spritually helping the North Korean people of God," continues Sister Maria Yim.   Following the railway disasater of Ryongchon last April 23rd, Monsignor Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, Archbishop of Seoul and Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang, issued a message entitled "You shall love your neighbour as yourself", affirming that "to share the suffering of our brothers and sisters is the Church's mission":  The Archbishop also asks parishes of his diocese to raise extra funds.  The Committe for Korean Reconciliation  has already sent some 80,000 dollars to North Korea.  The Seoul Diocese is not new to such initiatives.  The Committee for Korean reconciliation, founded in 1995, raises funds for sending out emergency supplies such as flour, maize, potato, rice, powdered milk, fertilizer, clothing and medicine.  In 1996, the Archdiocese of Seoul also financed the construction of a spaghetti factory near the church of Jangchung in Pyongyang and a hospital in the Rajin-Seonbong area, in the country's north.   Since 1992, every parish of South Korea decided to offer 3% of budgets to a Unification Fund, while at the initiative of the Korean Bishops' Conference, some dioceses have set up special relations with provinces and cities in the North.  However, the commitment to North Koreans involves Catholics from around the world: between 1995 and 2002, Caritas Internationalis sent 2,700 million dollars in aid, which included 220 milion dollars provided by the South Korean Caritas.
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