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Remain open to North Korea Church in Seoul urges

HONG KONG (SE): The Church in the Republic of Korea is taking the death of the leader of the hermit state to the north of the Demilitarised Zone, Kim Jong-il, as an opportunity to seek reconciliation with the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Pyongyang.

It was announced on North Korean state television on December 19 that Kim died on a train of a heart attack, brought on by physical and mental exhaustion from overwork. However, this information has not been verified.

AsiaNews reported the president of the Korean bishops’ Commission on the Care of Migrants, Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik, as saying that the death of the former dictator “opens the path to a period of great confusion.”

He predicted, “There will be a clash between the party and the army. The young age of the heir will not help a smooth transition. We must pray for peace in Korea and the world, and use the Christmas season to remain vigilant, but with a hand extended to our brothers and sisters in the north.”

A worsening situation would be a disaster, Michael Roy, the secretary general of Caritas Internationalis warned, saying that already two out of three people do not have enough to eat.

“The message from within the country is that people are in dire need of food aid. Malnutrition has left children, pregnant women and the elderly so weakened that when a crisis hits, its impact is even more dangerous. The humanitarian imperative is that ordinary people receive aid and are not held hostage by geopolitics,” he said.

Bishop You added that on the day the death was announced opposition parties in Seoul immediately put pressure on the anti-Pyongyang president, Lee Myung-bak, to send a delegation to the funeral of the late ruler.

Bishop You said that while he is in favour of this, it must be done in a sensitive way. “We should wait until they understand what we mean,” he cautioned. “We have tried so many times in the past and we were mocked.”

Bishop You said that now there is an urgency to reopen the sending of aid to the north. He predicted that because the military is in the hands of the uncle of the anointed successor to Kim, his 30-year-old son, Kim Jong-un, there will certainly be conflict.

“The people will pay,” the bishop of Daejong said. “Many will continue to die of hunger. We must do our utmost to start sending humanitarian aid again and prevent more deaths from the situation. It is too soon to say what will happen, but we must pray and work so that peace wins.”

Meanwhile, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of South Korea, Bishop Peter Kang U-il, told Fides, “We did not expect such an event. We hope that this will become a reason to develop a path of reunification.”

Both bishops expressed fears about the ability of the young Kim to handle the situation. “No one knows him,” Bishop Kang said. “He is a leader who has suddenly appeared. Our hopes are always towards the beginning of a journey of peace and reconciliation. It could be a sign the Lord wants a fundamental transformation of the country.”

UCA News reported that a representative from the bishops’ Committee for Reconciliation with the North announced on December 20 that it will continue with its humanitarian aid push for the north, while expressing fears that the death of 69-year-old Kim will spark more trouble.

The government in Seoul put the country’s military forces on high alert. But unification minister, Yu Woo-ik, said that his government had already sent a condolence message to Pyongyang and hoped to send a delegation.

He said that he hoped the wife of the late former president, Kim Dae-jung, as well as the family of the former chairperson of Hyundai, Chung Mong-hun, would be able to make the journey. Although not attending the funeral, they were received in a private capacity.

Kim visited Pyongyang as president in 2000. Newspaper polls show that Koreans are more or less equally divided on the issue of whether Seoul should send a delegation to the funeral or not.

However, On December 23 Pyongyang announced that no foreign delegations would be invited to attend the funeral.

Seoul has ordered that a Christmas tree that beams a giant cross over the border into North Korea be turned off. Pyongyang had already denounced the tree as psychological warfare and threatened to retaliate with live fire.

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