To commemorate the 61st Anniversary of the Korean Armistice, the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach united with members of the ecumenical community in Washington, DC in a panel, and vigil in front of the White House. During the course of the weekend, we joined together in song and prayer, asking God to guide us in reconciliation and reunification of Korea.
One song that exemplifies the longing of the Korean people to put an end to the division of their country between North and South, reunify lost loved ones and friends, and end sadness and oppression for millions is:
Woo-Rhee—Ae, So-Won-Eun, Tong-Il
Yi-Jeong-Seong Da-He-Suh, Tong-Il
Yi Gye-Rhea Sal Rhee-Neun, Tong-Il
Tong-Il Yi-Yeo, Uh-Suh-O- Rha…
Our deepest yearning is reunification
With all our hearts and strength,
Reunification that will make our nation come alive,
Reunification that will make our kindred come alive,
O Come hurry Reunification!
After serving in China for many years, Columbans sent nine missionary priests to Korea in 1933. They established missions in Kwangju and Chunchon. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, Columban missionaries faced harassment, jail, house arrest, and deportation. Still, they waited patiently, even after Korea was divided into North and South, for peace and reunification.
In 1950, the first armed conflict of the Cold War began. The North, supported by the Soviets, fought against the pro-Western South, backed by the United States. During the war, six Columbans were martyred by the Communists and one died in prison; two survived the infamous Tiger Death March to North Korea. Although an armistice agreement was reached on July 27, 1953, a peace treaty was never signed. 61 years later, we are still waiting. A dividing line between North and South Korea, known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), remains one of the most heavily armed and dangerous boundaries in the world.
Perhaps just as devastating as the lives lost in the conflict—5 million people died—are the millions of families and loved ones who were separated as a result of the dividing line. During the weekend, we heard from many Korean-Americans whose heartbreaking stories exemplify the hardships of family separation. One story shared by panelist Christine Anh, Executive Director of the Korea Policy Institute, was about a man who was on a business trip to Seoul, South Korea, during the time the line between the North and South was drawn. The man’s wife and two children, were trapped on the North Korea side. He passed away years later without ever reunited with or talking to his family again.
In addition to continuing our mission of solidarity and peace in Korea, Columban missionaries participate annually in the Gangjeong March for Life and Peace on Jeju Island, off the coast of South Korea. The beautiful island is host to two UN World Heritage sites, and contains unique biodiversity. However, the construction of a naval base on the island through the Gangjeong Villiage has threatened peace in the region, as well as destruction of God’s Creation. This year, the march took place July 29-August 2nd, with hundreds in attendance, and Columbans standing in solidarity throughout the world.
Family is at the heart of the movement to reunify Korea, as it is at the heart of the gospel. As God’s children, we are all called to be peacemakers, and stand with solidarity with Catholics and others who are struggling with heightened militarization on the Korean Peninsula.