Catholics in South Korea are optimistic the Pope’s August trip to the country will ease tensions with North Korea and work toward a long-awaited reconciliation its northern adversary.
Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, Archbishop of Seoul, expressed his people’s hope that Francis’ Aug. 14-18 apostolic voyage to South Korea will produce a “miracle” for the peninsular, helping both countries to enter into dialogue, according to Ecumenical News.
South Korean Catholics are also hoping the Pope will invite North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Park Geun-hye to take part in a common gesture of prayer for peace.
“In the Holy Land, the Pope invited the presidents of Israel and Palestine ‘to his home’ in the Vatican to pray together. Perhaps, Pope Francis might make a gesture of peace or detente for the two Koreas,” said Cardinal Yeom, according to CBCP, the news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
Given that the Pope “wants peace and does not want North Korea to be lost” and both Koreas “to live together in harmony and share fraternal love,” the cardinal said he hopes the Pope will bless both Korean leaders, “wishing them both a future of peace.”
“Currently,” he lamented, “neither side shows any willingness to enter into dialogue, and this is one of the most frustrating things for us.”
In recent months, tensions have erupted sporadically, particularly along the maritime border.
The animosity dates back to the liberation from Japanese occupation that unleashed a deep-seated conflict. In 1945, this led to the separation of the Korean peninsula and to the Korean civil war. The Koreas are still in a technical state of war as the three-year conflict that began in 1950 ended in an armistice.
Peace now would be “a true miracle,” Cardinal Yeom was quick to admit.
He said his nation’s people are “really impressed” by the Pope’s decision to visit, adding: “I truly believe that God is working to show us a path and His will. The Pope is coming first and foremost to meet the young people of Asia… He is coming to encourage us to be at the forefront of mission.” He also lauded the trip’s focus on the laity, calling them “a vital force in the growth of the Catholic Church in the country.”
Marking his first Asian trip as Pope, his scheduled trip will coincide with the 6th Asian Youth Day, a weeklong event in South-Korea’s fifth largest metropolis Daejon.
Of South Korea’s population, 49 million are Christians, making them the biggest single religious group accounting for 31.6 percent (Protestant 24 percent, Roman Catholic 7.6 percent). Buddhists account for 24.2 percent.
Regarding North Korea, only a tiny percentage are Christians, but reliable figures are hard to come by. Before 1948, its capital Pyongyang was an important Christian center: one-sixth of its population of about 300,000 people were converts, according to the U.S. Library of Congress. (D.C.L.)