“Good news!” Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejeon, South Korea, couldn’t hold back his joy and enthusiasm at the images of the historic meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that took place yesterday in Panmunjeom. The two leaders shook hands and then Trump became the first US President to enter North Korean territory. The handshake and the landmark step occurred in the village built on the DMZ, the dividing line between North and South Korea established as part of the armistice in 1953. Panmunjeom is also where two summits between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in took place last year. Yesterday, Trump and Kim had an informal 50-minute meeting, at the end of which they announced their decision to resume talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme and safety on the peninsula. Trump also announced that he will invite Kim at the White House. Commenting on the news, bishop You recalled the words delivered yesterday by Pope Francis after the recitation of the Angelus prayer. “In these last few hours, we have seen in Korea a good example of the ‘culture of encounter – said the Holy Father -. I greet the protagonists with the prayer that this significant gesture constitutes a further step on the path of peace. Not only on that peninsula but in favour of the whole world.”
The meeting between the two leaders takes on an even greater significance in the light of the February summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, where they did not reach an agreement or sign a joint declaration. “What some viewed as a failure – Bishop You says today – may be regarded as a meeting in which both leaders had the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the positions of their respective countries. This must continue. The hope is that the process will proceed and progress, as pointed out by the Pope, in the wake of the culture of dialogue and encounter.” The bishop noted that only a week ago, on 25 June, marches, demonstrations and prayers for peace took place in Korea marking the 69th anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating war, which caused the death of 3 million people and the division of the Korean peninsula that is still in place today. “Twenty thousand people attended the Holy Mass for peace and unity in Korea that we celebrated in the village of Panmunjeom, a few kilometres from the North Korean border.”
The message to the two leaders – of US and Pyongyang – is “to proceed with great patience.” During the bilateral meeting President Trump and North Korean leader Kim agreed to restart the talks. The bishop of Daejeon deems as very encouraging the statement released immediately afterwards by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing a meeting between the delegates of the two countries in mid-July to kick off “a new project of dialogue. This is the culture of encounter: to continue the talks.” The goals of the dialogue are known: “the United States’ request to Kim Jong-un is to fully dismantle the nuclear arsenal, while the North Korean leader expects to obtain the relief of some sanctions against Pyongyang in return.” How can the stalemate of requests and expectations be resolved?
“By proceeding without haste, step by step”, replied the bishop of Daejeon. “This would allow both sides to open small – albeit continuous – pathways for encounter and dialogue.
A dream. “I dream and pray – Msgr. Lazarus You concluded – that the Pope will visit North Korea.” Last year the news of Kim Jong Un’s (verbal) invitation to Pope Francis, personally relayed in Rome by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, caused a sensation in the country. “The Pope’s visit to Pyongyang would allow the North Korean leader to restore the international community’s confidence in the Country.
But this can only happen if and when the country opens up to the Catholic Church and allows for the reactivation of the diocese of Pyongyang which is currently lacking a Catholic bishop and priest”.