04/14/2005, 00.00
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The Pope's legacy in the two Koreas

by Teresa Kim Hwa-young
The memory of the martyrs, North-South reconciliation, human rights, and religious coexistence make up John Paul II's legacy in the second largest Church of Asia, according to a Seoul journalist.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – South Korean newspapers covered extensively the death of Pope John Paul II and the legacy of his pontificate. The Pope himself travelled twice to the East Asian country.

On the day of the funeral, the largest English-language paper—The Korea Times—dedicated four pages to the late Pontiff; including an interview with Card Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, Archbishop Emeritus of Seoul, and Fr Gerald Hammond, Superior of the missionaries of Maryknoll Society.

Both remembered John Paul II's great affection for Korea and his prayer for reconciliation between the North and the South.

AsiaNews presents an analysis by a South Korean journalist of the Polish Pope's legacy to the two Koreas and the local Church.

John Paul II's legacy is four-fold: the memory of the martyrs, a commitment to reconciliation between the two Koreas, the Christian witness for democracy and liberty and an authentic inter-faith dialogue for the sake of humanity.

When he touched Korean soil in his first journey to the peninsula, John Paul II kissed the ground calling it a "land of martyrs". On that occasion, he said: "I have always prayed that one day I might be granted the grace and joy of coming to visit the wonderful land and the dear people of Korea. And I have always felt particularly close to you in my heart. And now here I am, come as your friend and as an apostle of peace of God's own peace, to your entire land".

In the course of his stay, he spoke of the time when Christians were persecuted, saying "[y]ours is a beautiful land that through trials and tempests of a venerable history has known how to emerge ever new, full of life and youth." This was especially true for the Church for which "the blood of martyrs [was] the seed of Christians."

In canonising Andrew Kim Tae-gon and another 102 martyrs, the Pontiff also broke new ground: for the first time in the history of the Church, canonisation took place outside the Vatican.

Through prayer, constant solidarity and concrete actions, John Paul II expressed his interest and concern for North Korea and pacification between the two Koreas.

He urged southern bishops to express their own solidarity towards their northern brethren through concrete aid and spiritual togetherness.

When North Korean people suffered from flood disaster in 1995, a delegation from the Holy See visited North Korea to provide humanitarian assistance. The Holy Father himself offered a personal gift of over one million dollars.

Similarly, at the time of the railway tragedy in Ryongchon, the Pope expressed his sympathy to the people of North Korea.

More recently, he joined the movement 'fasting one meal to help North Koreans', launched by the Archdiocese of Seoul.

The Holy Father always hoped that the Korean peninsula would one day be peacefully reunified through dialogue, mutual trust, and brotherly love.

He lamented that "the suffering of a divided Korea is a symbol of divided world, symbol of a world situation that cries out for a response, a new attitude, a new heart."

When he visited the city of Gwangju, where hundreds of innocent people committed to freedom and democracy where killed by the military regime in 1980, he said that "a Christian cannot remain silent when there are serious threats to human dignity, peace and genuine progress."

"Our faith," he said, "obliges us to resist whatever prevents individuals, groups and entire peoples from being their true selves according to their deeper calling".

He consoled the people of Gwangju, saying: "I am keenly aware of the deep wounds that pain your heart and souls from personal experiences and from recent tragedies, which are difficult to overcome from a merely human point of view. For this reason I hope you'll be blessed by the grace of reconciliation".

In visiting Sorokdo National Hospital, he praised the "fraternal inter-faith cooperation" in favour of the sick.

"It is a joy for me," he explained, "to know that among yourselves, Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists, you all live together in genuine brotherhood".

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