Korean Church is holding month-long prayers from June 17-July 27 at a time when Korean ties are particularly strained
A white cloth with 'Peace' written on it hangs from an ad balloon during the Mass for Peace on the Korean Peninsula held by the National Reconciliation Committee of the Bishops' Conference in Paju, Gyeonggi Province of South Korea on June 25, 2019. (Photo: Catholic Times)
Catholics in South Korea joined special prayers for peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula as part of a month-long series of prayers to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.
Hundreds of Catholics participated in special Mass in all dioceses on June 25 — the 73rd anniversary of the start of the war — with the theme "Let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts" that was part of the month-long prayer campaign for peace in the region.
In Uijeongbu diocese, just across the border with North Korea, Catholics joined the Mass and commemoration program led by Bishop Simon Kim Joo-young, head of the bishops’ National Reconciliation Committee.
"At a time when the relationship between South and North Korea is strained and difficult, what we can do for peace is to believe in the power of God, namely the power of prayer," Kim said during the homily.
He also shared about the bishop’s recent “pilgrimage for peace” at the Joint Security Area (JSA) Church Panmunjeom (also known as Paju), near the North Korean border, on June 6.
“I hope that all believers will pray together until the day peace comes to this land,” he added.
Father Peter Kang Joo-seok, head of the National Reconciliation Committee in Uijeongbu diocese noted that prayers for peace are more important than ever as the relationship between the two Koreas has nosedived in recent times.
On May 31, residents of the South Korean capital Seoul received an evacuation warning in response to a North Korean missile launch.
The warning proved to be a false alarm, but it panicked people and made them think about the deteriorating state of relations between Koreas, the priest said.
“The reality is that South-North conflicts are deeply rooted as the history of division is long. Many say that it is difficult to actively talk about reconciliation or peace due to current circumstances,” Kang said.
Despite the challenges the desire for peace on the Korean Peninsula must continue, he added.
Korean Church holds prayers for peace and reconciliation from June 17 to July 27, the day when an armistice between the two Koreas ended the deadly war in 1953.
This has been an annual Church program since 1965.
The war from 1950-53 left the Korean Peninsula wounded and divided, forcing almost all Christians to flee to the South to escape death at the hands of North Korean communist forces.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK) defined the North Korean Church as a “silent Church” and started the “Day of Prayer for the Silent Church.”
In 1992, the title was changed to the “Day of Prayer for National Reconciliation and Unity” with an emphasis on prayer for reconciliation and unity.
Reconciliation and unity in the Korean Peninsula have been major pastoral priorities of the Korean Church.
In 1984, the CBCK established the North Korean Mission with the aim of carrying out activities to promote peace, reconciliation, and unity. It was renamed the National Reconciliation Committee in 1999.
Besides prayer for peace, diocesan units of the committee raise awareness and support North Korean refugees.Uijeongbu diocese holds prayer meetings and Mass for national reconciliation and unity every Saturday at the Church of Repentance and Atonement.
The Archdiocese of Seoul also holds a prayer meeting and Mass for national reconciliation and unity every Tuesday.
Other dioceses also offer monthly Masses for peace.
The National Reconciliation Committee also motivates believers to help poor people suffering in North Korea despite their dislike for the North Korean regime.In 1997, the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan of Seoul appealed for participation in the 'Movement to Send 100,000 Tons of Corn to North Koreans' along with the six major sects and civic groups.
The movement was initiated as North Korea faced a horrific famine from 1994-98 that left tens of thousands dead.
United Korea was under the rule of the Joseon dynasty from 1392-1910. Japan colonized Korea (1910-1945) and left Korea divided into two after the end of World War II.
Efforts for reunification failed due to disagreements between the US and the Soviet Union, leading to the Korean War.
During the war, North Korean communist forces invaded the South and carried out brutal atrocities. The communists retreated only after the United Nations intervened. An armistice, not a treaty, marked the end of the war.
It is estimated at least four million were killed and ten million were displaced.
* This report is brought to you in partnership with the Catholic Times of Korea.
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