Can the Pope bring down the wall between the two Koreas?

A peace monument in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas

Can the Pope bring down the wall between the two Koreas?

By Aïda Delpuech/

As North Korea continues to step up its provocations, South Korean president Moon Jae-in has commissioned a special emissary to the Holy See to ask Pope Francis to assist the reconciliation process on the peninsula.

Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea (CBCK) president Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-jong met with Pope Francis on May 26. He said he “had been sent by the South Korean president (Moon Jae-in) to request Pope Francis’ support for the process of reconciliation between the two Koreas".

The archbishop added that he is hopeful that the Vatican could play a mediation role, an initiative launched as the Republic of Korea and the Holy See celebrate the 70th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high for several weeks. North Korea has expanded its ballistic missile tests recently and now claims to be ready for a sixth nuclear test.

“Dialogue is the only option,” says Archbishop Kim. “Pyongyang is in the process of displaying its military power but we need to pursue dialogue."

“If North Korea could open up a dialogue then tensions on the Korean peninsula will diminish,” he believes.

The Pope Francis effect

During his visit to South Korea in August 2014, Pope Francis made reconciliation between the two Koreas the main focus of his trip.

He insisted on “the new opportunities for dialogue, to meet and to overcome differences” that were available to the Korean people.

This visit is now starting to bear fruit, particularly in the number of Catholic catechumens, which increased by 5% between 2013 and 2014.

The “Pope Francis effect” has also had a broader impact in South Korean society as a whole.

“The spirit of compassion is making its way within society, including towards our North Korean brothers whom we hold particularly dear in our hearts,” comments Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul, who is also apostolic administrator of Pyongyang.

In recent years, Catholics, who are particularly involved in South Korean politics, have also multiplied their initiatives in favor of peace and reconciliation.

What role could Pope Francis play in the reconciliation process?

Could the pope have an impact comparable to his influence in the reconciliation process between Cuba and the United States in 2015? According to Régis Anouil, editor in chief of the Eglises d’Asie news agency, Francis could indeed encourage Pyongyang to take up dialogue again.

In addition, the fact that South Korea has asked Pope Francis to intervene illustrates its desire to regain control of the negotiations, which have recently between monopolized by the United States, China, Japan, and Russia.

According to an article in the South Korean daily Joongang Ilbo, Archbishop Kim requested the pope to use all his influence to facilitate a bilateral summit between the leaders of the two Koreas.

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 13:13
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