Following a deadly North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island, the South’s Catholic bishops called for peace. They urged “strong intervention” from the international community, especially China, to avoid the “catastrophe” of war.
North Korean artillery attacked Yeonpyeong-do Island in the Yellow Sea on Nov. 23. The surprise attack killed two marines and two civilians, and injured 13 marines and three civilians, UCA News reports.
The attack also damaged the only Catholic church on the island, which has 450 Catholic residents in a total population of about 1,700.
Two shells fell on the church grounds and the windows of the main church building were damaged. The old rectory was partly demolished and a van was destroyed, according to Fr. Johannes Kim Yong-hwan, chancellor of the Diocese of Incheon.
South Korean officials said North Korea fired 200 artillery shells onto the island and set more than 60 buildings on fire. The South returned fire with about 80 artillery rounds, UCA News reports.
The North and South are technically still at war since the countries’ armistice in 1953.
Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Cheju, president of the South Korean bishops’ conference, responded to the attack.
“Let us pray that the situation does not get any worse and does not become an open conflict. We pray that the Lord gives to all leaders and all of us the strength and light to overcome this crisis. Today we live in a time of great confusion and also of fear,” he told Fides news agency.
Saying that the reasons for the attack are not yet known, the bishop said it appears to be based on “political tactics” and perhaps is a distraction from North Korea’s “dramatic” internal problems. He explained that the economic situation there is difficult and North Koreans face hunger and misery.
“I am sure that the leaders of the North know that war does not amount to anything, that it is just a catastrophe that hurts civilians. It is a situation that we should try to avoid at all costs,” Bishop Kang commented. “Conflict can only bring destruction.”
“I urge a strong intervention by the international community which cannot close its eyes to this situation. It also requires involving China, which has a power of influence over North Korea, to understand the roots and causes of this crisis,” he continued.
The bishops expect prayers for peace from the Universal Church. Bishop Kang explained that peace is not simply the fruit of human will or diplomatic action. Rather, it is help from God.
“We ask the Holy Father to pray for us, for peace and for the good of the Korean people,” he concluded, saying there is hope because “we continue to trust in God’s providence.”