Caritas Shifts Gears in North Korea

From “Band-Aid” to Long-Term Support

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 11, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Caritas Internationalis has pledged not only to continue offering relief and development aid to North Korea, but also to work with more far-reaching goals in mind.

At its Korea Country Group meeting in Seoul, the aid organization announced that after 10 years of offering piecemeal humanitarian assistance to North Korea, the focus of its work will shift to initiating development-oriented programs.

Kathi Zellweger, director of international cooperation for Caritas Hong Kong, the lead agency for the program, commented after her latest visit to the country that “bad roads, erratic electricity supply, and poor water, sanitation and health facilities” impede humanitarian efforts.

Caritas Internationalis’ secretary-general, Duncan MacLaren, said that he did not exactly how the shift will take place, but did reaffirm that “our commitment to the people of North Korea remains firm.”

Bishop Lazzaro You of Daejeon, president of Caritas Korea, commented in the meeting: “I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Caritas Internationalis for its evangelical love for the people suffering in North Korea.”

The bishop noted that North and South Korea have been divided for 60 years.

“We have to clearly separate humanitarian assistance from politics,” he said. “In other words, we should distinguish between the authorities and poor people. It is our Christian duty to give concrete help to those suffering from famine and disease in order to give them a better life.”

Justice and Peace Award

Zellweger, who also manages the Caritas Internationalis program in North Korea, is this year’s recipient of the Bishop Tji Hak-Soon Justice and Peace Award.

MacLaren said after the announcement: “We are all proud of the work that Kathi has undertaken over the last 10 years on behalf of the confederation in North Korea.

“This is a just award for someone who has dedicated much of her life over that time to assisting the most vulnerable in one of the most excluded societies on earth, and in keeping open the door of non-hostile dialogue.”

Bishop Tji Hak-Soon promoted democracy in South Korea in the 1970s, and wrote to Pope Paul VI from his jail cell in 1974: “I made my declaration of conscience for the sake of the dignity of the person, the restoration of the person, the recovery of democracy.”

The foundation that bears his name was inaugurated in 1997, and the prize is awarded annually to “heroic men and women and/or organizations that, at great personal risk, stand up to oppression, in pursuit of justice, peace and respect for human rights.”

The foundation will present the award to Zellweger on Dec. 8 in Seoul.

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