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Lessons from Seoul

SEOUL (UCAN): South Korea is currently going through a politically tumultuous time, with the long standing demand for the president, Park Geun-Hye, to step down.

A Hong Kong person named Ching resident in South Korea for some time, says in an article posted by UCAN that the darkness and distress Park brought with her in 2013 has worsened since a political crisis broke out in mid-October. In a televised address, Park said she is now permitting the National Assembly to decide her fate.

“Even so, I see the Church in Korea standing with its people, consoling them, speaking out against wrongdoing and reminding people to remain hopeful,” Ching says.

She adds that as a foreigner in Korea, she is disturbed by the worsening situation in her hometown of Hong Kong, as the Church’s role in Korean society has been a source of inspiration and empowerment.

JTBC News first exposed the scandal dubbed Choi Soon-sil Gate and then that the National Intelligence Service submitted to Park a report in mid-2014 citing Catholic groups like the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, as a religious criticising force.

Two years after that report, it is not only the priests’ association that is criticising the government, but Church leaders from dioceses, religious societies and Christian groups are all organising people, issuing statements and shouting Park Geun-Hye Step Down.

But Andrew Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung, from Seoul, and two Protestant pastors accepted Park’s invitation to attend a private meeting on November 7.

The government claimed that the meeting was for the president to listen to public opinion, but the Ecumenical Youth Council, along with three Protestant youth federations, criticised them for attending the meeting.

“How can you be called clergy?” when “Jesus stayed by the side of the poor, the oppressed and those who suffered from injustice?” they said in a statement.

On November 21, the priests’ association released a statement encouraging people to be aware that the sea of candlelight at the massive rallies that have formed in the streets is filled with hope for new life and the voices expressing that we can’t live in such a way anymore are prophetic.

The priests’ association emphasised the need to look beyond Park.

“Let’s answer the call to cut the oppressive chain that has been tightening around us for 70 years,” the priests’ association statement says.

“Looking back at Hong Kong, the place where I come from, I see a similar crisis. Since the Umbrella Movement in 2014, we have observed increasing interventions from the central government in China, deteriorating human rights and a split society,” Ching says.

“The One Country, Two Systems foundation was shaken by Beijing’s recent interpretation of the Basic Law on November 7. The move ousted two lawmakers who were critical of China’s government,” she continues.

However, she maintains that although the people in Hong Kong are angry and frustrated, the Justice and Peace Commission continues to play a persistent role.

In a statement, it quotes a pastoral letter from the late John Baptist Cardinal Wu Cheng-chun, God is Love, which responded to a similar crisis in 1999.

“This right (given to Hong Kong courts to interpret its own laws) is the established basis of Hong Kong’s system of law and of government. It is extremely important that the basis of law and government be maintained in all its integrity,” the late bishop of Hong Kong said.

“Dear brothers and sisters, facing this present situation do we feel helpless? That is understandable! Can nothing be done? Remember our faith. Pray more, open ourselves, believe firmly. God helps those who help themselves, because his ‘power working in us can do more than we can ask for or imagine’,” the cardinal added.

Ching says that she saw the significance of his words not just from the social analysis point of view, but his reminder to people of where our strength comes from and the values we must remember.

Six days after Beijing issued the interpretation, the press asked the current bishop of the special administrative region, John Cardinal Tong Hon, for his opinion.

He refused to comment, saying the issue should be analysed by legal experts and that he is more interested in “promoting harmony, communication and love.”

Ching reflects, “I have learned from the bible and Catholic social teaching that peace is a fruit of justice (Isaiah 32:17). However, in the context of China, harmony is understood as remaining silent in front of dictatorship.”

She asks, “Does Cardinal Tong’s response simply reflect his personality, ignorance, or desire to stay away from his flock? Or is there another consideration?”

Especially since the Umbrella Movement, more and more Catholics have been roused to participate in civil movements for change.

But religious and missionary societies are shifting their interest towards mainland China and, consequently, they regard being outspoken on social issues in Hong Kong as an obstacle.

Witnessing the Catholic Church in South Korea, from laypeople to seminarians and priests, from missionary societies to the bishops, they are all unified, standing hand-in-hand.

“But the justice and peace workers in Hong Kong look comparatively lonely on their rocky path towards justice” Ching concludes.

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