CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 July 2019

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Spines shiver and hearts beat as Moon presidency launched

BANGKOK (SE): "A rare Catholic leader in Asia, South Korea's new President Moon Jae-in is a very faithful man, in a Catholic sense," Michael Sainsbury says in pointing to the great appeal he had to many people who hope he can break the dominance of big corporations over government.
 
However, while he won an overwhelming majority of the popular vote in the capital of Seoul, as many a prophet of good tidings, he was not nearly as welcome in his home town of Busan.
 
In an article posted on the UCAN website, Sainsbury points out that he only scrapped the popular vote in Busan with a percentage lower than he gleaned running against his now disgraced predecessor, Park Guen-hye, in 2013.
 
While young people in Seoul were over the moon at his election, in his home town of Busan, they were overwhelmingly underwhelmed.
 
But in Busan he had two things running against him, his religion and his persistent refusal to speak critically of North Korea. Neither of these things gave him much leverage in the port city where Protestants easily outnumber Catholics.
 
Moon wears his Catholic faith on his sleeve. He said on television that the thing that he cares about most is the pair of rosary beads his mother gave him.
 
But in the political circles of the Christian Churches, preference tends to run with denomination and young Protestants report receiving strong encouragement from their pastors to vote for Moon's main rival, Hong Joon-pyo, who is also a man of strong Christian faith, but the on other side of it from Moon.
 
While some listened, others did not, but it was not just Protestants who were at it. Although the Catholic bishops proclaimed officially that the Church did not place its support behind any particular candidate, individual bishops advertised their personal preference vocally.
 
Priests let their personal choice be known as well, although as a group, the clergy are pretty split on the matter, showing the political divide in the Catholic Church.
 
But more than faith or denomination, it is Moon's overtures towards Pyongyang that inspires mistrust. One of his first acts as president was to visit Beijing for talks with the president, Xi Jinping, and then onto Tokyo to meet the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, over how to relate to the hermit state to the north of Korea's demilitarised zone.
 
Although Moon stated definitively that sanctions against Pyongyang are by no means off the table, a priest echoed the sentiments of many when he said,"Whatever we say about this new president we must deal with the fact that he is and will be a divisive president."
 
The priest zeroed in on Moon's chosen chief of staff. "He's a former student activist and North Korean sympathiser," he commented.
 
Sainsbury describes Im Jong-Soek as a 51-year-old former two-term member of the National Assembly with the Democratic Party and a prominent student leader in the 1980s who, like Moon, protested against military rule.
 
He has long been thought of as a North Korean sympathiser and done time for organising a rare, high profile trip to Pyongyang to take part in a youth festival in 1989.
 
This especially worries those with long memories and deep seated attitudes die hard, as they cannot imagine a thaw in the long term freeze at the border of the two Koreas.
 
Those who oppose a policy of engagement with Pyongyang brand those who seek dialogue and a warmer relationship sympathisers.
 
But while Im puts shivers down the spines of some, he warms the hearts of others, especially in his promise to run an open shop and, after the furtive creeping around by the administration of the disgraced Park, this has received an enthusiastic welcome.
 
But beyond religion and North Korea, Moon has an appeal as a down to earth man without any airs. Even when he did the Catholic thing and had his new residence, the Blue House, blessed, he invited his parish priest and not the cardinal archbishop of Seoul.
 
This won plaudits from at least one young non-Christian, who told the Sunday Examiner, "I love his simplicity."
 
A Gallup Poll gives him a popularity rating of 84 per cent. A new record for an incoming president, putting him slightly ahead of Kim Young-sam in 1993.
 
But his big challenge may be still to come in renegotiating the THAAD missile system.

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