Sunday, August 4, 2013

Maryknoll Senior Priest Looks at North Korea

July 27 marks the 60th anniversary of the armistice at the end of the Korean War.  The Peace Weekly commemorates the event by interviewing Fr. Gerard Hammond, local superior of the Maryknoll Fathers in Korea. Called 'grandfather' by the North Koreans (he's 80), he goes to the North frequently to give aid, as one of the representatives of the Eugene Bell Foundation, an international  foundation providing assistance to North Korea, mainly for the treatment of tuberculosis.

 Knowing the long presence of Maryknoll in the North, the interviewer asked Fr. Hammond for his feelings on this 60th anniversary of the cease fire. Fr. Hammond said that having hostilities begin again would be a tragedy; dialogue is necessary to maintain the peace and work for unification. Since the South is the stronger, it is the right thing for us to be concerned for the weaker people of the North. Our history of war is a sad one, he said. At present the feeling of sadness and regret is overwhelming, but after unification the sadness will be turned into affection. Considering the  future, it is right for the South to help the North. We should all be concerned, he said, on finding the appropriate means to facilitate the reconciliation.

The interviewer wanted to know what Fr. Hammond felt  about the recent deteriorating situation with the North, particularly those events related to the Kaesong Industrial Complex--a collaborative economic arrangement with South Korea very close to the demilitarized zone, only one hour by car from Seoul. The complex allows South Korean companies to employ cheap skilled North Korean labor, which provides the North with important foreign currency. This arrangement was discontinued by the North and completely shut down in May of this year; recently they have decided to begin again.

Fr. Hammond lamented the lack of trust that both the North and the South have shown. This has to be overcome, he said, by instituting cooperative ventures, such as humanitarian exchanges, including educational, cultural and sports endeavors, as well as family visitation rights. This will open the way to  unification, he said.

Concerning the conditions in the North, Father said he has gone to the North, under the hospices of the Eugene Bell Foundation, over 50 times with the blessing of the government.  He recently went to eight centers where they are taking care of people with tuberculosis. The overall conditions in the North are  improving, he said, but the numbers of those with TB are increasing. Every time he goes, he remembers the many martyrs of the Pyongyang diocese.  As a missioner and priest, he mentioned that he wants to be always, as the Church is, on the side of the poor.

His desire  is that the Koreans in the South will pray for the North, and pointed out that there is a church, the Church of Repentance  and Atonement, built after the manner of the two cathedrals in the North, located in Paju, bordering the North, which would be a good place for South Koreans to visit and pray. He would also like to see greater interest in the refugees from the North. They will be the first to return to their hometowns after unification, and their help will be needed, he said, to heal the scars from the many years of conflict. He hopes we will continue to be interested in the education, support and care of these refugees now in the South. He added that after retirement he hopes to go again to the North to continue his work with the sick.

No comments:

Post a Comment