“I was deeply moved; in spite of everything we can still hope in reconciliation between the United States and North Korea, between South Korea and North Korea, thereby re-establishing peace on the Korean peninsula.” Those were the first words to SIR from South Korea of Msgr. Igino Kim Hee-joong, Archbishop of Gwangju and President of the Korean Bishops’ Conference, in the aftermath of the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Panmunjom. The historic step into the so-called Joint Security Zone (JSA) followed the handshake between the two leaders, who engaged in a 50-minute talk. “My hope – added the President of Korean bishops – is that this meeting between the three leaders may serve as a springboard to move from a 70-year division to the unity of our people. All of us, the children of Korea, are determined to work towards the restoration of north-south Korean peace and for peace throughout the world.
A challenging dialogue marked by moments of crisis and recovery. What is your message to the two leaders? How important was the role of the South Korean President?
I think that all world leaders are required to safeguard the interests of the countries they represent; this is part of their mission. However, I would argue that those interests (economic/commercial) should not be the result of financial speculation and unjust sacrifices to the detriment of other Nations.
Despite what we often witness in today’s world, peace must be built on justice and brotherhood between peoples.
There ensues that the role of the mediator is of great importance and effectiveness in the dialogue – so as to achieve peace and harmonize the desired benefits of the parties concerned. As I see it, the role of the President of South Korea, Mr Jae-in Moon Timoteo, is extremely important for achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula, given the historic relations with Mainland China and Russia.
Pope Francis has been following the situation in the Korean peninsula. On Sunday, after the Angelus prayer, he spoke of the Panmunjom summit as “a good example of the culture of encounter” and expressed the hope that this gesture “may constitute a further step along the path of peace, not only on that [Korean] peninsula, but for the whole world.” What is your line of action? What is most dear to the Catholic Church?
I would like to thank the Holy Father for his constant prayers and his appeals for peace in the Korean peninsula. The Holy Father tirelessly invokes the gift of peace upon the whole world.
Numerous Korean Catholics are calling for a visit by Pope Francis to Pyongyang in North Korea, to strengthen yesterday’s meeting between Presidents Trump, Kim and Moon, and initiate a new path for constructive dialogue between these three countries.
Almost all Korean Catholic citizens, as well as those belonging to other denominations, repose great trust in the mission of the Holy Father Francis and in his support to that cause.
You have visited North Korea. What situation did you find? What are your hopes for this population?
I visited North Korea four times and I can say that each time I have seen improvements and developments in the Country. I think that President Kim, building on his university education in Switzerland, would like for his country to be economically developed along the lines of Western countries. I am confident that we will realise our dream, provided that those who are contributing to this important mission do not prioritize national interests but the good of the people of that Country.