“We have been looking forward to this occasion for 70 years, a war would cause irreparable damage to both parties” commenting the news of the progress underway in the Korean peninsula, the Archbishop of Gwangju, President of the Korean Bishops’ Conference, Monsignor Igino Kim Hee-joong, conveyed his satisfaction and his hope. After a period of high tension, hostilities started to ease in February, when the athletes of the Korean team, North Korea and South Korea, paraded together under the same flag during the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Games. Various “talks” ensued, up to the meeting of March 5th between Kim Jong-un and a South-Korean delegation in Pyongyang at the end of which the two parties reached a historic agreement: North Korea said it would agree to a moratorium on missile tests and sent an invitation to the President of the United States Donald Trump, relayed by the South Korean delegation, for a face-to-face meeting to be held by the end of May. Trump has agreed to meet with the North Korean leader but he pointed out that the “sanctions will remain in place.”
Mons. Kim Hee-joong, the détente process was set in motion in February with the Olympic Games. After over 50 years of separation and tension, what were the reactions to North Korea’s participation with South Korea in the Olympic Games? The Winter Games signalled a significant step that furthered a climate of dialogue between North and South Korea. I think that sport is an international language that extends beyond ideologies, religions, races, sense of nationhood. Sport breaks open even the most closed hearts.
Many signs of détente have ensued. What are the prospects for dialogue? Our hope was to have a precious opportunity for dialogue. In fact, both North and South Korea wished to open a negotiation channel. We were asking for a dialogue with no precondition. I hope this process will lead to a meeting between the divided families. While waiting for this to happen we will continue offering the North our humanitarian support through “International Caritas”, as we have been doing for years.
Which mistakes should be avoided to prevent the ongoing rapprochement from being stalled? First of all, there should be no missile threats or economic sanctions, nor should we interfere with their political system or their president Kim. We must continue the dialogue with them.
Has Pope Francis been informed? What did he tell you? Even recently, we asked for the prayers and the support of the Holy Father for the establishment of peace in the Korean peninsula. The Holy Father Francis is well-aware of the situation in Korea. He has given us hope on several occasions, highlighting the importance of peace in the Korean peninsula.
Who is behind this historic step? How did it come to be? And, above all, why now? I think that the President of South Korea Moon Jae-in has been seeking this historic step together with many Koreans who want peace in the Korean peninsula. Most of all, major help comes from the Holy Father, through his prayers and his words addressed to powerful Countries. President Kim Jung-un recently expressed his intention to engage in a dialogue for peace. We have been looking forward to this occasion for 70 years, war would cause irreparable damage to both sides.
Someone even proposed to confer the Nobel Peace Prize to the Korean female hockey team. What is your opinion to this regard? Indeed, it could be so. But if peace finally arrived in the Korean peninsula all those involved in this process, all parties who contributed to the establishment of peace, could be awarded the Nobel Prize: the Holy Father, the South Korean President Moon, the North Korean President Kim (thereby ensuring perfect and long-lasting peace), as well as US President Donald Trump.
What is the attitude of the Church? What are you asking? We will continue to offer our humanitarian support and to pray for reconciliation between the two Countries and for peace, which is what all Korean faithful do every day at 9 pm. I also hope to visit North Korea to advance cooperation between the Catholic Churches of North and South Korea.