The Catholic Church in South Korea is praying for the success of the talks between the two Koreas, as the delegations from both sides are preparing for their meeting on Tuesday in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). “The Korean Church has prayed and is praying for the talks between the two Koreas, and for tomorrow's meeting to be successful. I'm happy, very happy," Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik of Daejeon told AsiaNews on Monday.
The 9 January meeting in the border truce village of Panmunjom is taking place amid growing tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and the war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US president Donald Trump. This will be the first official meeting between the two neighbours since December 2015.
Role of S. Korean leader
Bishop You credited the progress between the North and South to the “patience and perseverance” South Korean President Moon Jae-in who never stopped holding the door open to meeting with the North, even in the most tense moments of the last months.”
The bishop, who is who president of the Committee for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK), said that Moon also held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and discussed the issue of the deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system that China had severely. “Unlike what happened with former President Park,” Bishop You said, “they reached an agreement.”
South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters that during the 9 January talks the two sides are expected to discuss the Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang in South Korea next month, and inter-Korean relations. He said North Korea asked for further negotiations about the meeting to be carried out via documented exchanges.
Kim opened the way for talks with South Korea in a New Year Day speech in which he expressed a desire to reduce tensions and suggested the North’s possible participation in the Winter Olympics.
Bishop You explained that the turning point came with Moon’s invitation to involve North Korean athletes in the Winter Olympics and with Kim accepting the offer. Noting a “softer” tone in Kim’s New Year address, the bishop said the North Korean leader has reiterated the unity of the people of the Korean peninsula.
Stressing that sports and culture can unite people, Bishop You hopes that many fans along with North Korean athletes will participate in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. “Above all, coming together undermines prejudices and confirms that with we cannot reach peace with weapons," he said.
Pope Francis on Koreas
Pope Francis has also called on all nations to support dialogue to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and to work for a legally binding ban on nuclear weapons. “It is of paramount importance to support every effort at dialogue on the Korean peninsula, in order to find new ways of overcoming the current disputes, increasing mutual trust and ensuring a peaceful future for the Korean people and the entire world," Pope Francis said in his annual address to the diplomatic corps on Monday in the Vatican.
Pain of a divided families
Following the 1953 partition of the Korean Peninsula in 1953, many families found themselves divided between the South and the North, unable to see each other. At present, some 60,000, aging people still hope to meet their relatives before dying. The last family reunion was held in 2015.
"The issue of families is a heart-wrenching because it highlights the whole story of suffering in the two Koreas,” Bishop You said. “Afterwards we hope that cooperation at the Kaesong industrial complex and at Mount Kumgang Tourist Region can restart. They provide an opportunity for exchanges and dialogue that allow the growth of trust and collaboration between the two Koreas ".