The right man at the right time. Korean bishops welcomed May 9th’s election of Moon Jae-in. He is the 19th President of the Republic of Korea. The presidential election was held in advance. President Park Geun-hye was removed from office after impeachment past March on charges of corruption.
“I am very happy. Finally Korea will turn a new page and undertake a new course”, said bishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik from the diocese of Daejeon. Korea –he added– had reached a standstill, “without a president and without democracy.” The situation worsened last year when a corruption and bribery scandal broke out, involving the former President as well as the major industries in the Country such as Samsung, Hyundai, SK, Lotte.
With Moon’s election “the people said enough is enough
And they voted to set the seal on the past and usher in new processes that may trigger the onset of a new form of democracy, justice and, most of all, change.”
Also on the front of the relations with North Korea, his appointment is a sign of hope. “In the past years – said Monsignor You, who chairs the Justice and Peace Commission – the relations between the two Koreas broke down. Now we need to recover dialogue and a renewed relationship, to find the ways to live together in peace.”
The first declarations of the President-elect on the relations with Washington and with Pyongyang bode well, after days of mutual, open challenges that kept the world with bated breath. “If it were necessary I would leave for Washington immediately”, Moon said. But also “for Beijing and Tokyo.” In order to resume the dialogue needed to stop the nuclear threat, the newly-elected President said he is willing to go to Pyongyang, “provided the appropriate circumstances”, thereby confirming his position in favour of the easing of tensions.
Those are “important” declarations, remarked the bishop of Daejeon. “South Korea must not be a Country that triggers new tensions, this is fundamental. Instead it should take an active role in reconciliation also at international level, thereby contributing to the building of bridges of peace in the Asian region and worldwide.”
Lawyer and human rights activist, Moon Jae-in is a practising Catholic, and his baptismal name is Timothy.
Bishop Lazzaro recalled the first Catholic President of South Korea was Kim Dae-jung. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in the year 2000 “in recognition of his commitment for the establishment of democracy and human rights in his Country and throughout South-East Asia, notably for his efforts aimed at reconciliation with North Korea.”
President Moon “has good relations with the bishops”, Msgr. You reconfirmed. “With him we outlined the importance of working for the common good, of putting into practice the principles of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.” In his capacities as President of the Justice and Peace Commission and as Chair of a Committee calling for the abolition of the death penalty, which all the religions in the Country adhere to, bishop You has personally asked him take up this commitment.
“He said he was willing to.”
In South Korea there has been an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment since February 1998 – the bishop said – when the late President Kim Dae-jung took office, sentenced to death in 1980 during the years of the regime and eventually pardoned.
As regards the priorities that the President-elect is called to address to give new momentum to the Country, the bishop replied: “The Holy Spirit unites us. But evil divides us. Korea is a divided Country, both internally and in its relations with North Korea. The new President will have to be – and he is – an open person, willing to work with everyone, capable of creating an atmosphere of dialogue and trust with all the factions of the Country. The same approach is necessary with North Korea. It is necessary to open new avenues, the undertake paths of dialogue and reconciliation, to find new solutions to live together in peace.”