Calling for worldwide prayers for peace and reconciliation in Korea, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK) has warned of “imminent humanitarian catastrophe” in North Korea and has said war would be “a terrible tragedy.”
In a June 19 interview, Bishop Peter Keng of Cheju told Fides news agency about the special Day for Prayer and Reconciliation and Unity of the Korean People, held on Sunday. It had as its theme “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God.” The Day for Prayer and Reconciliation was held as tensions between the north and south are strained over the sinking of a South Korean navy ship.
“War would be a terrible tragedy, and we want to prevent it, using the most powerful of weapons: prayer.”
“It is urgent to find new paths for dialogue and reconciliation,” he commented, adding that the Catholic Church supports Korean religious leaders’ commitment to peace and solidarity.
The bishop reported that the Catholic Church in South Korea, together with other religious communities, has formulated a request to resume humanitarian aid to the North.
“At this time of extreme tension, ways must be found to give new impulse to promoting dialogue and reconciliation,” he told Fides. The aid to the north would be beneficial and its resumption would be “a gesture of goodwill” towards North Koreans who suffer poverty and hunger. The gesture would also “certainly have a positive effect” on the government of North Korea, he thought.
Bishop Keng said at present Caritas Korea is doing nothing because its aid to the North has been stopped.
“This is the first such deadlock in decades. Our concern is to save innocent civilians in North Korea especially the most vulnerable categories, the children, who suffer dramatic consequences when humanitarian aid is stopped,” the bishop explained.
“Local NGOs warn of an imminent humanitarian tragedy in the North,” he continued, acknowledging that the Church has no direct information “but the danger exists.”
Briefly explaining the present policies of the South Korean government towards the North, he said that the government of President Lee Myung-bak stopped various actions of North-South cooperation as early as 2008. The present government is different.
The March crisis triggered when a South Korean warship was sunk by a suspected North Korean torpedo has “clearly worsened the situation” and totally sealed the boarder, the bishop said.
“This latest crisis is breeding sentiments of mistrust and hostility and fear that violence could escalate,” Bishop Keng added, declaring “urgent” the need to stop “this self-feeding spiral.”
Direct dialogue with the North is “extremely difficult” for many reasons, such as its refusal to follow conventional norms. Indirect dialogue through countries such as China becomes “fundamental,” as does the involvement of international institutions such as the United Nations.
“In this extremely delicate situation Korea's religious leaders continue to pronounce just one word: reconciliation,” he explained. “We as Christians can only keep reminding all Koreans and indeed the whole world that the supreme good is reconciliation.”