“We celebrate in memory of that tragic fratricidal war that broke out due to the invasion of North Korea 70 years ago on June 25; because it is a precious opportunity to give thanks and praise to God for having constantly assisted our people and our Church, guiding us with unceasing love for the way of truth and life for such a long period of time, the period of the war and after the armistice in 1953 until today; because it is also an important opportunity to renew, as citizens of Korea and as Christians, the determination to carry out our mission of commitment to the reconciliation and unity of the people and for peace, that is, for the evangelization of the Korean Peninsula.”
With these words Cardinal Andrea Soo-jung Yeom, Archbishop of Seoul and Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang, addressed the faithful present in the Cathedral of Seoul on June 25, celebrating a mass on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, the conflict that shocked the peninsula from 1950 to 1953, reported Fides News Agency. All the baptized in Korea live this anniversary with the intention of praying for reconciliation, for the unity of the people and for peace on the Korean peninsula, with various initiatives at an ecumenical level, while respecting the strict measures put in place to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Cardinal recalled the immense suffering of that conflict which, in the aftermath of the Second World War, marked the division of the peninsula – the North under Soviet influence and the South under the American sphere of influence – and caused millions of victims: “During this war, about 700 thousand soldiers of the South Korean and North Korean armed forces, about 40 thousand soldiers of the United Nations armed forces, and about 150 thousand soldiers of the armed forces of China died. Among the civilians of South Korea about 400 thousand people died or were killed, more than 300 thousand people went missing, and about 90 thousand people were deported to North Korea. Over 280 thousand people died among North Korean civilians and about 800 thousand people went missing”.
Furthermore, more than 6.5 million refugees had to leave their cities, and about 1.5 million North Koreans came to South Korea in search of freedom, and among them “there were many Christians who escaped persecution against churches operated by the communist regime”. “Before this war – he continued – about 60 thousand faithful lived their life of faith in the 57 parishes of the 3 dioceses of the North. But, under the persecutions carried out by the communist regime established immediately after the Liberation of 1945, one of my predecessors, Mgr. Francesco Yong-ho Hong, Bishop of Pyongyang, Abbot and Bishop Bonifatius Sauer, OSB, of the territorial Abbey of Tokwon and of the diocese of Hamhung, and many priests, religious and laypeople were arrested and martyred and all the ecclesiastical buildings were confiscated by the communist regime. Thus our Church became invisible in the North”. Among the martyrs of this period, there was also Bishop Patrick Byrne of the Maryknoll Society, the first Apostolic Delegate in Korea. He refused the opportunity offered to him by the US Embassy to leave the city of Seoul, and was arrested in the Cathedral of Seoul, brought to North Korea and was later martyred. For 81 martyrs, including religious and laypeople, such as Bishops Hong and Byrne, the cause of beatification is currently underway.
The Archbishop of Seoul, addressing all men of goodwill, notes that “looking back on our history 70 years ago, we ask you to join all forces and hearts in order to build a society in our Korean Peninsula in which all the people, both of the South and of the North, freed from the shackles of the past through the ‘purification of memory’, live a truly human life in a true peace that the Lord gives us”.
The Cardinal stresses that “the North Korean regime continues to threaten peace in the Korean Peninsula and in the world, with the pretense of acquiring nuclear weapons that require immense resources, without paying any attention to the extreme poverty of the people and suppressing its fundamental human rights”. But in spite of everything, he notes, “I would like to say that achieving peace is a very difficult task, but it is not at all impossible if only each of us did the things he must and can do in daily life in favor of true peace, with the firm determination to live ‘spiritual martyrdom’, following in the footsteps of our martyrs. Sowing peace around us, this is holiness”.
To build and obtain the longed-for peace, the main way is forgiveness: “No peace process can ever be started if an attitude of sincere forgiveness does not mature in men.
Without it, the wounds continue to bleed, fueling endless hatred in the following generations, which is a source of revenge and the cause of new downfalls. The forgiveness offered and received is the indispensable premise for walking towards an authentic and stable peace”, notes the Cardinal, taking up the words of John Paul II in the Message for the Day of Peace in 1997. And then he launches an appeal to rulers: “I sincerely hope that the leaders of the Korean Peninsula and the international community who hold the fate of our people, can resolutely overcome personal, party and national interests in order to promote the true good of every man and of all the people of the South and North of the Korean Peninsula in the perspective of the universal common good”.
Furthermore, “the most powerful weapon that the Church possesses in the struggle for peace – he recalls – is nothing other than prayer: it lies at the heart of the effort to build peace. In particular, Holy Mass is an inexhaustible source of all genuine commitments of Christians for true peace. And as Our Lady who appeared in Fatima asked us in 1917, let us fervently recite the Rosary for world peace and especially the Korean Peninsula. The power of the Rosary is truly great. Through the Rosary the Mother of God makes our prayer her own and addresses it to her Son. The recitation of the Rosary therefore can change the course of history”. In this spirit, the Cardinal made a special act of entrusting the community of faithful in North Korea, what is called “the Church of silence”, and of all the population beyond the 38th parallel, to the Virgin of Fatima, to guarantee her special protection.
In this perspective, Korean Christians of all denominations are experiencing a special 70-day prayer campaign, launched on March 1st and will end on August 15th, supported and shared by the Churches in Korea and around the world. August 15, 1945, will be remembered, the day on which the Korean peninsula was freed from Japanese occupation but, at the same time, the day in which the division of a people until then united by culture, history, traditions, language was sanctioned.