At the end of last month a delegation from South Korea, including the leaders from seven major religious groups--Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist--visited North Korea. The visit was approved by the government, a sign of the desire to improve the relationship with the North.
The Catholic Times interviewed Gwangju archbishop Kim Hee-joong, a member of the 24-man delegation, who said that the hope for the trip was to contribute, even in a small way, to uniting hearts toward reunification and opening a new chapter of reconciliation and cooperation. The Times' editorial expressed hope for a change in our relationship with the North, and for more interest from our Catholics. Below are some of the salient points made in the South-North statement, paraphrased from a short summary in the paper.
We have been together as a nation for over 5000 years, united by sharing the same blood. However, because of foreign intervention and by force, the country has been divided. Representatives of the South and North religious groups want to break the deadlock in our current situation, and to work toward reconciliation and unity. We set our hearts for peace and unity, hoping for a new relationship.We affirm that:
We want to break the hostile and confrontational relationship between the South and the North. We want to be on the front line with efforts to bring peace to our country, putting an end to war. The ones that are hurt by the confrontation are our own people.
We affirm that:
We support and want to carry out the historical declarations between the South and the North. The problems between the South and the North have to be solved with the cooperation of our people according to our thinking and to our benefit.
We affirm that:
We aspire to work for unity with all religious groups and all segments of society, national and international. In order to strengthen the dialogue and cooperation between the South and the North we hope to meet regularly and work for the realization of unity of all religious people and for the unification of the homeland. And with this in mind, we hope the different segments of society will be active in meeting and corresponding with each other.
The response of the North to the delegation from the South was warm and exceeded expectations. The North-South relationship has been extremely difficult to gauge, and doubts concerning unification continue to be expressed. But the efforts being made in that direction bring hope for a better future, though many are cynical, and with good reason. Efforts of religion in this very political and difficult situation can be seen as futile. And yet, that the South had seven leaders of different religious groups make the trip to the North is itself praiseworthy. As Archbishop Lee said, they were placing stepping stones between the two separated parts of Korea.