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Korean police disrupt Mass on troubled Jeju island

JEJU (SE): The all out confrontation between the Korean government and the people of what is known as the Island of World Peace over the construction of a giant naval base went up a notch on August 8 when the local diocese demanded an apology from riot police for knocking a priest to the ground while he was celebrating Mass and treading on the Eucharist.

UCA News reported that about 20 riot police disrupted a Mass being celebrated at the gates of the construction site in order to clear a path for cement trucks to enter.

In the melee, the aged Father Bartholomew Mun Jung-hyun was knocked to the ground, spilling the sacred hosts in his fall.

While police deny that any one of them trod on the Eucharist, Cheong Seon-nyo, the head of the Gangjeong mission station, told the Hong Kong-based news agency that she was with Father Mun when the incident occurred.

“I clearly saw a policemen step on the Eucharist that had fallen to the ground,” she was quoted as saying.

The president of the local Justice and Peace Commission, Father John Ko Buyeong-soo, was on the scene shortly after the incident occurred.

He said, “To step on or damage the Eucharist is an insult to Catholics.” He added that an apology would be demanded from the police.

However, a press statement from the Jeju Provincial Police Agency denied the accusations. “There was no violent force throwing Father Mun to the ground or stepping on the Eucharist,” the statement reads.

Woo Jeong-sik, the chief inspector of the Jeju police, added that the policeman who allegedly stepped on the Eucharist said that he did not do that.

The incident is but one in a string of confrontations between the local people and the government over the militarisation of the island, as the population claims the excavation will destroy both the exquisitely beautiful and unique landscape, as well as violate the peace by increasing the threat of war with China.

Columban Father Pat Cunningham pointed out that July 27 this year marked the 59th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice Agreement, which saw the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War in 1953.

“However, it is yet to be replaced by a permanent settlement,” he explained.

He said that this unresolved state of war is a source of ongoing insecurity for all Koreans both north and south of the demilitarised zone, and the construction of the naval base only serves to aggravate this for all Korean people.

He said that a Grand March for Peace was launched in Seoul on the anniversary day and that on July 30 around 10,000 people joined a similar march in Jeju to walk in solidarity with the villagers of Gangjeong, who have struggled against the construction of the base for over five years.

He added that the people are also angry over the destruction of the ecology, noting that Jeju is host to three UNESCO world heritage sites.

Father Cunningham said, “The environmental consequences which have been well documented and are sadly becoming clearly evident are unfortunately lost on or conveniently ignored by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature, the organisers of the World Conservation Congress, which will hold a conference this year, ironically only seven kilometres away from the destruction site.”

He added, “One of the main sponsors of the conference is Samsung, which happens to be the lead construction company involved in the destruction!”

Father Cunningham explained that the construction of the naval base and the present land grab being conducted by the navy to provide future accommodation for its personnel is clearly part of an overall military strategy of the United States of America encircling and containing China’s growing economic power.

With the addition of such military might pointed at China, observers are asking if Seoul believes that Beijing will be able to look at Jeju as still being the Island of World Peace.

Father Cunningham calls the construction an act of violence against the people of Korea, the environment of Jeju and the people of China.

“But real and lasting victories are those of peace and not of war,” he said, quoting the words of the Lord Buddha.

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