CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Korean democracy lesson for Hong Kong

GWANGJU (UCAN): Twelve members of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Hong Kong (JPC) visited Gwangju, South Korea to learn about the Gwangju Uprising of 18 to 27 May 1980, when citizens took up arms after Chonnam University students demonstrating against the military government were beaten by soldiers. South Korean authorities said about 200 died in the uprising from but activists put the figure at about 2,000.
The Justice and Peace Journey which took place from November 9 to 15 was co-organised by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Gwangju.
The trip began with a tour of historical sites of the uprising guided by Kim Do-won, who survived the suppression. Kim Yang-rae, who was sentenced to jail for taking part in the uprising, spoke about the actions of the Catholic Church during and after the uprising.
The group visited the May Mothers, formed by women in the resistance and the mothers or sisters of victims, the May 18 Memorial Foundation, Gwangju Trauma Centre and Gwangju Human Rights Peace Foundation, which supports victims of state violence.
Kim Do-won pointed out that civil society had prevented authorities from removing historical traces of the uprising.
One participant, Lee Yuk Mei, remarked, “I felt like I was at the scene of the struggle at that time and I could feel the road of resistance of the Gwangju people.”
“We received a warm reception from many local organisations and groups,” another participant and catechumen, Molly Chu, said.
During and after the uprising, demonstrators were branded as rioters and communists. While Gwangju was isolated, the Catholic Church recorded the truth and was the first to disclose it. The priest responsible for this task was arrested and interrogated.
“In times of turbulence, the Church plays a significant role. Because we have the support from our faith, we need not be afraid and we can take a step forward,” Lee Yuk Mei, said.
Participants compared the Gwangju Uprising with the Tiananmen Square massacre in China in 1989. Both were brutally suppressed by governments who tried to conceal and twist the truth. Both countries also face the challenge of how to educate the next generations.
Joyce Au, who has been involved in the Union of Hong Kong Catholic Organisations in Support of the Patriotic and Democratic Movement in China for many years, said her experience in Gwangju had encouraged her to press on.
“I realised that the union’s work over the years is so similar to what citizens and the Church in South Korea have been doing. I feel that we are walking together,” she said.
Several South Korean young people shared their views on the uprising as well as their own experiences with the group.
“I remember one of them said that even one person’s voice is a voice and one’s strength is power,” Au said.
As the Gwangju journey came to the end, the trial of nine people involved in the 2014 Umbrella Movement opened in Hong Kong.
“The (Hong Kong) government has repeatedly prosecuted those who participated in demonstrations. This discourages and disappoints people, (it leads them to) care only about personal development and become indifferent to social issues,” JPC project officer, Jackie Hung Ling-yu, said.
She felt that although Hong Kong and South Korea have different historical and cultural backgrounds, and Hong Kong still lacks a democratic system, “I kept thinking during the trip if Gwangju citizens gave up like Hong Kong people, the truth of the May 18 Uprising might never have been known to the world.”
This was the second Justice and Peace Journey after a trip to Seoul last August with visits to civil society groups, Catholic media and lay movements to learn about the social participation of the Church.

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