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In Seoul, Episcopal Church delegation reflects on TOPIK, considers future of Korea


Peace and reconciliation in Korea will require a shared process for governments, religious denominations, and social systems, said presenters, participants and the Episcopal Church delegation at the international Anglican conference, Towards Peace in Korea (TOPIK), held November 14-20 in Paju, near Seoul, South Korea.

More than 150 primates, clergy and lay leaders from around the Anglican Communion gathered for TOPIK, hosted by the Anglican Church in Korea (ACK).

“TOPIK has certainly placed the issue of reunification of the Korean Peninsula high on the agenda of the Anglican Communion,” noted the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of Peace and Justice Ministries.

“A conference like this fills you with hope that people of good will can make a difference. We surely need such signs of hope amidst an often discouraging and all too violent world,” Grieves continued. “I leave Seoul encouraged about the future and deeply admiring of the Church here for working tirelessly for reconciliation and justice.”

The TOPIK Conference highlighted “the work and the potential of our church at its best,” noted Kirsten Laursen Muth, senior program director for Episcopal Relief and Development. “There are so many places of brokenness in our world today; some we hear or see everyday; others are almost forgotten; too few are understood.”

The impetus for TOPIK was a 2005 Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) resolution calling for peace, reconciliation and reunification of Korea.

Peter Ng, partnership officer for Asia and the Pacific, said the forum provided an opportunity for participants to share in the pain and suffering of many who are suffering from the wounds of wars and conflicts in different parts of the world.

“My hope is that the stories we have heard will give us a better understanding that wars and conflicts result because of not loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us,” said Ng. "The forum is an invitation for all of us in the Anglican Communion to work with our brothers and sisters around the world to work for peace, especially for the peace and reconciliation of the conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

“Each one of us has the opportunity and a responsibility to do our part to spread love and understanding among the people around us and to work against hate and oppression of others in our global community.”

“Division is a way of life in Korea,” said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. “Barbed wire and military posts are abundant in the south as well as in the north. Fear of brothers and sisters has been the norm for more than 50 years, even though there is significant energy and movement toward reunification in parts of Korean society. The tension between the yearning for reunion and the fear and suspicion of those long understood to be enemies is profound and can only engender compassion.”

North Korea
The six-day summit began with a peace journey to Geumgang, North Korea, where humanitarian aid was presented and the first public Eucharist since World War II was celebrated.

“In our travels to North Korea, I was struck by the contrast between the natural beauty of the Geumgang area and the evidence of abject poverty and abundant societal controls,” said Jefferts Schori. “Our visit was filled with hours of waiting for official mechanisms to do their grinding, uncertainty as to the outcome, and visions of miles of barbed wire and electrified fences along our tourist road. When we finally met with North Korean representatives to offer our small gift, however, there was good fellowship and laughter. Face to face, human beings of all sorts and conditions can recognize a neighbor, even former enemies from around the globe.”

Conference content
Under the backdrop of five floor-to-ceiling panels in yellow and green with illustrations of hands, children, an elderly man, and barbed wire, TOPIK’s sessions in Seoul were marked by powerful testimonies of people’s hardships and the sadness that permeates the history of the Korean peninsula.

The conference was unable to escape the chronicles of the horrors of warm. Whether with words, photos or videos, the images were powerful as all told stories of despair, pain and the ravages of war.

“[The] Korean peninsula is a place where the Cold War is still going on, even though it came to an end almost two decades ago in other places of the world,” presented Professor Hong-Goo Han, SungKongHoe University. “Korea was divided by foreign powers. Internal actors or factors were totally excluded from the second decision to divide Korea.”

He added, “Unification of the Korean peninsula is not an easy task.”

“Asia now is at an era of reconstruction of order that is as rare as in every 50 to 100 years,” said Professor Sung-Ryoul Cho of the Research Institutes for International Affairs. “Around the Korean peninsula exists a diverging road. North and South Korea are facing two options: one being choosing the different roads and re-experiencing the miserable hike of separation on different paths, and the other being a hike in heading towards the grand unification of the Korean race on the same road.”

John J. Lee, minister of Unification of South Korea, told the group that historically and geopolitically, the Korean peninsula issue is not confined to two Koreas alone. “This is a region where four great powers, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia all have stakes and interest,” he said. “In order for peace to be established on the peninsula, there needs to be regional cooperation and a new order that can enable the countries of the region to overcome long-standing historical discord.”

Jin-Heung Byon, general secretary of Korean Conference on Religion and Peace, noted, "Religious communities on both sides have been working and will continue to work for national reconciliation, by demonstrating that it is the single most important agenda that requires collective efforts transcending differences in regimes and systems.

All Anglicans have a role in the necessary process of peace, said Dr. Jenny Te Paa of the College of St. John the Evangelist in Auckland, New Zealand, and convener of the international Anglican Peace and Justice Network. “We have a responsibility to transform hearts and minds towards the doing of peace and reconciliation and not just the speaking of them.”

She reminded everyone, “Peacemaking is a gospel initiative.”

In addition to testimony from Korea citizens, leaders and Anglicans, presenters also shared issues of war and separation from Cyprus, Palestine, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Reflections on TOPIK
Grieves departed with these thoughts. “There are a number of important outcomes, but I believe the challenge to support an end to the state of war which has existed since 1953, and which would result in normalization of relations between the United States and North Korea, may be the most significant work ahead. Our Korean partners have stressed that such an outcome would leave the North and South in a position to work out their own future together. President Bush has mentioned his own desire to establish normal relations and we can only encourage him to pursue that goal which would be a major part of his legacy. North Korea should be encouraged to open up its country in order to develop the nation and relieve the suffering masses of people who have endured so much hardship.”

Muth also addressed the presentations and the calls to action. “The most engaging presentations were those that presented practical and fundamental ways of acting in ways that reflect our faith. Something as simple as asking our grocer the origin of the cherry tomatoes we are buying, gently communicating our concern that we not buy produce grown on illegally occupied lands. Just a question -- not a boycott, engaging a person, not demanding a change. There is no one action which brings peace, rather a series of actions, the most important of which are taken by people who have faith that their actions make a difference, acting to build trust.”

The Rev. Dr Charles Robertson, Canon to the Presiding Bishop, said. “We encountered individuals of profound grace and hospitality. As they would give us their business cards, holding them with both hands and bowing reverently as they placed them in our hands, it was clear to me that they were sharing with us a part of their very self and inviting us to do the same, one precious human being encountering another. I will never exchange business cards in the same way again.”

Robertson, who served as a member of the writing committee for the final communiqué, noted, “In the Sharing House of Nowon in Seoul at a Sunday worship service, I met beautiful, delightful people who have found their lives valued help has been provided for 20 years for the disabled, the sick, and the illiterate, for youth, parents, and laborers alike.”

“I was struck by the pathos of a 90-year-old woman, whose husband and son died in the War, and whose daughters remained in the north, who to this day does not know their fate,” Jefferts Schori said. "Her time is short, and her only hunger is to know. We also heard the story of a young woman who escaped repeatedly from North Korea, and is now a university student in the south, but feels major discrimination from those around her. She is a stranger, a foreigner, an outsider, even though she speaks the same language and shares much of the same culture.

“The depth of human suffering around the globe tells us that God’s Reign has not arrived in its fullness, and we heard evidence of that in abundance,” Jefferts Schori noted. “Our own response is also needed in abundance -- peacemaking in our own homes, families, congregations, communities, and urging our own government to make peace with enemies old and new.”


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