Thursday, October 1, 2015

Korean Independence and the Catholic Church

In 1945, on August 15th, with the defeat of the Japanese, Korea received independence. At a recent symposium the topic of Independence and the Catholic Church was examined, celebrating 70 years of freedom. It was not all happiness, for the country was divided under the Russian and American military rule. Both Catholic papers had articles on the place the Church had in preparing for a self-governing Korea.

Three years after the Japanese defeat on August 15, 1948, the self-governing  Republic of Korea was established. In 1910 they signed the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty which took away the freedom of the country and made it a colony of Japan. Over 40 years later independence returned to the nation. 

One of the participants in the symposium mentions how before and after liberation the Korean Catholic  missionaries had a role in setting up the Republic of Korea. At the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941, the Maryknoll missioners in Korea who were deported had written a manifesto which she brought to the attention of those present. When they were deported because of Japanese imperialism they made known in magazines, and in the mass media the persecution of Koreans under Japanese rule, and the importance of the missionary work in the country. Even after liberation the Maryknoll Society continued to form groups to push for the self-government and editorials on the issue. They continued to work for the independence and self-government after the end of the war.

Bishop Byrne, a Maryknoller, who returned to Korea in 1947, as the Apostolic Visitor of the Holy See was made the first Apostolic Delegate to Korea in 1949.  He did much to help the new government and showed the interest of the Church in Korea's struggles. She mentions that the expulsion of the western missioners  made the Catholic history of Korea, and the aspirations of the Church known internationally.

Bishop Byrne did a great deal in his position as Apostolic Delegate, to have the Korean National Government recognized internationally, with his diplomatic contacts. Bishop No Ki-nam the bishop of Seoul did much also to help with his contacts and in getting the Vatican's blessing. Another participant mentioned that the recognition had to come from the general meeting of the United Nations. Some countries  were opposed but many national groups  were on the side of Korea.

Another participant mentioned that the military government did prefer Catholics and Protestants over the Buddhists and Confucianism. This  helped the growth of Christianity in Korea. However, during the occupation of Korea at the hands of the Japanese irregularities were overlooked, and those who were pro-Japanese remains a problem in society. Without the  punishment of those who cooperated with evil and overlooking this period, will only lead to the same in the future, was a comment by a participant.

Another participant mentioned the Church and the  North Korean Christians. The Church was not quick to detect what was happening and responded to the circumstances as they arose. They were not conscious of the change in society, had no plans to counter the movement against religion, and no systemic response to the North's treatment of religion. 

A bishop, in conclusion, encouraged the participants in his talk. Korea has had many ups and downs but to have reached the present level of development means many have sacrificed much, and asks all present to continue to agonize on how the Church can be a light and salt in society.

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