The Holy See’s new diplomat who is begin his mission in South Korea in a few days’ time is hopeful about improving relations between the two Koreas despite many obstacles that need to be overcome.
“The peace process between the two Koreas, which began with the historic meeting between the two Korean leaders on 27 April, gives great hope,” Archbishop Alfred Xuereb, Apostolic Nuncio to South Korea and Mongolia told Vatican News in an interview.
“The road is still at an early stage and will certainly be a long one with many obstacles to overcome,” he noted. Pope Francis, he said, has invited the entire Church to support the parties concerned to build peace and offer the coming generations a future of harmony and prosperity.
Archbishop Xuereb will be in Seoul on Sunday at the start of his diplomatic mission. By way of farewell, he celebrated Holy Mass with Pope Francis Thursday morning during which the Holy Father assured him and the Church in Korea and Mongolia his prayers and blessing.
The Maltese archbishop is taking up his diplomatic mission amid improving relations between the two Koreas, who are technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Under a rigidly totalitarian regime, North Korea has exacerbated its closely maintained isolation from the rest of the world with its nuclear ambitions. Washington and Pyongyang have been at loggerheads for months over the North's nuclear and missile programmes, with US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un trading insults and threatening war.
However, since last November, North Korea has not carried out any nuclear and missile test, and some very dramatic positive developments have been taking place between the two neighbours. Trump and Kim are scheduled for a historic meeting on June 12 in Singapore.
Church committed to Korean reunification
In his interview, Archbishop Xuereb noted that over the past 23 years, the Catholic Church in South Korea has been gathering every Tuesday at the feet of the Virgin Mary in Seoul Cathedral to implore the grace of reunification. “I am sure that She from Heaven turns a benevolent gaze toward her children in Korea,” said the 59-year old archbishop.
The division of the Korean peninsula took place at the end of Japan’s 35-year colonial rule in 1945 after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. Soviet troops occupied the area north of the 38th parallel, and US troops the south, with the north leaning towards Communism and the south towards democracy.
The trust administrators from the US and the USSR were supposed to arrange for nation-wide elections to reunify Korea in 1948, but neither side trusted the other and hopes for re-unification and independence never materialized.
Archbishop Xuereb who has served Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis, agrees with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, according to whom a “great hope has been kindled” on the Korean peninsula.
Archbishop Xuereb said that “the Catholic Church has a very important role in this process of reunification and, following the mandate of the Divine Master, continues to evangelize and offer its contribution also at the diplomatic level in order to achieve the objectives so desired.”
Korea close to Pope's heart
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 suspicion and confrontation" and find new paths to build peace.