By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis has sent a message of healing and reconciliation to Koreans commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Jeju Uprising and the massacres that followed that resulted in the deaths of more than 10,000 civilians.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, sent a message on behalf of Pope Francis to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK), saying that the Holy Father hopes the commemoration will be an occasion to promote healing and reconciliation.
Hundreds of people gathered on April 3 in the South Korean capital of Seoul to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the rebellion in the island of Jeju.
In the message posted on the CBCK website, Card. Parolin said the Pope also hopes that through this event, all men and women will be willing to invest in building a world based on brotherly solidarity and peace.
While entrusting the Korean people to the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, the Pope assured them of his prayers that they may persevere in hope.
After the U.S. and Soviet had divided the Korea peninsula at the 38th parallel in the wake of the Japanese surrender in 1945, a United Nations ruling in 1947 called for a general election on the entire peninsula. The Soviet refused to comply, but the U.S.-led South went ahead with elections.
Fearing a permanent partition of the Korean peninsula, protesting communist guerrilla fighters in Jeju attacked local police and rightist paramilitary groups. The insurgency and the brutal suppression by the U.S.-backed South Korean security forces from April 3, 1948 to May 1949 killed between 14,000 and 30,000 people.
For decades, the South Korean government covered up the mass killings by security forces, until the 1990s.
Korean Church commemorates
A CBCK official said it was extraordinary for Pope Francis to send a message for an issue that the local Church was commemorating.
A Special Committee for the Jeju April 3 Uprising by Cheju Diocese and CBCK committees for justice and peace and reconciliation of Korean peoples jointly announced the 'Jeju April 3 Uprising Special Commemoration Week' from April 1 to 7.
As part of the week, the CBCK conducted a commemoration Mass at Seoul's Myeongdong Cathedral celebrated by CBCK president Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong of Kwangju.
Bishops' Easter message recalls Jeju
Earlier, in an Easter message the south Korean bishops denounced the brutality of security forces on Jeju residents, saying covering up and hiding the truth about the massacre is to tolerate and sympathize with injustice and violence.
They said what happened in Jeju was not a local event but a “national catastrophe”. The suffering of the residents of Jeju was also the suffering and pain of the whole nation.
However, pointing to Easter, the bishops drew hope for all. They said that God's death and despair are transformed by God into life and hope. They hoped that the 70th anniversary of Jeju Uprising no longer be a symbol of despair and suffering but rather a symbol of healing, life, and hope.
Pope eying Korea
Pope Francis has been closely following developments in the Korean peninsula. He visited South Korea, 13-18 August 2014, on the occasion of the 6th Asian Youth Day. On the final day, he dedicated his Mass in Seoul's Myeongdong Cathedral to reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. He urged all Koreans to reject a "mindset of suspici Mass ion and confrontation" and find new paths to build peace.
More recently, his appointment of Archbishop Alfred Xuereb on February 26 as apostolic nuncio to Korea, is seen as an encouragement to reconcilitation and warming relations between the two Koreas.