The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may be the beginning of a turning point for the path of reunification of the Koreas, Catholic leaders said after his passing.
“We hope that the Lord gives light and strength to the North Korean brothers so that there is a return (to) a policy focused on dialogue, peace, reconciliation,” Bishop Peter Jeng of Cheju, president of the South Korean bishops’ conference, told Fides news agency.
Kim Jong Il, 69, died of a reported heart attack during a train trip. He had led the isolated communist state since 1994. His third son, Kim Jong Un, is his expected successor.
His death caused much grief among North Koreans who lamented the “great leader’s” death. State television urged North Koreans to unite behind his successor.
The South Korean military went on high alert in case of any military provocation.
Bishop Kang said the bishops did not expect Kim’s death.
“We hope that this will become a reason to develop a path of reunification. We do not know in detail the current political situation in North Korea.”
He suggested that a “settling time” was possible. Korea’s new leader, the 30-year-old Kim Jong Un, is “very young,” has “no political experience” and does not seem to have the Korean people’s confidence.
"No one knows him. He is a leader who has suddenly appeared. Our hopes are always towards the beginning of a journey of peace and reconciliation, the bishop said.
“This event could be a sign that the Lord wants a fundamental transformation in the country.”
Fr. Baptist John Kim Hun-il, executive secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Subcommittee for Aid to North Korea, hoped that Kim’s death would not plunge North Korea into more chaos, UCA News reports.
He expressed hope that his committee’s aid program might continue and that North Korea will show more progress in reconciliation efforts.
Rev. Kim Kea Sun, the deputy general of the Korean Conference of Religion for Peace, said North Korea’s future is “a very delicate issue.”
Kim Jong Il’s death “could leave a void and create very serious problems at a social and political level.”
“We hope that in the North there is no conflict, which would bring further suffering to the people.”
Rev. Kim hopes to continue his organization’s relationship of exchange and dialogue between religious leaders of the North and South Koreas.
The organization has scheduled a potential Dec. 22 meeting in North Korea to plan for a religious leaders’ delegation to visit to the South. In September 2011 a delegation of South Korean religious leaders visited Pyongyang.
“Our hope is that this exchange process continues, even with the new political leadership in the North, to reinforce a climate of cordiality and friendship between North and South Korea,” Rev. Kim said.
North Korea has only one Catholic church in Pyongyang and about 3,000 Catholics, UCA News says. There are no resident priests or nuns.