As of this writing, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are in Singapore preparing for their historic meeting to take place Tuesday, June 12. Success for this summit will benefit the world on several levels. It could begin the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, end the war begun on June 25, 1950 with the death of over 5 million people, help the starving people of North Korea and improve the lot of persecuted Christians in the north. While I doubt all this could happen in short order, at least the foundation could be laid for some of these hopes for Korea and the world if providence allows a successful conclusion to this meeting.
The founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Il Sung, who actively tried to eliminate religion and prop himself up as “the eternal president,” was raised by devout Christian parents. He ultimately repudiated his parent’s Presbyterian affiliation and reinvented them into communist heroes. He followed the Soviet plan to eliminate the influence of religion and posit himself as the new focus of devotion by his people. And he did this quite brutally. The North Korean government claims to permit freedom of religion. This claim is refuted by the testimonies of Christians in North Korea who have suffered from deplorable conditions they have personally experienced during their imprisonment in labor and concentration camps.
Even though an exact count of Christians in North Korea is impossible to know, it is estimated that since the imposition of communism in 1953 some 300,000 Christians have disappeared. The country has no more bishops, priests or nuns, probably killed during the persecution of religion. It is estimated that some 100,000 Christians are imprisoned in labor camps. Former North Korean officials and prisoners have reported that Christians are singled out for harsher treatment. Though the North Korean government denies it, all private, non-state sanctioned religious activities are forbidden. Anyone discovered engaging in any clandestine religious practice is subject to arrest, torture and possible public execution. In order to promote its false claims of religious toleration, arrests for religious affiliation or activity are cloaked in accusations of spying or involvement in other illegal activities.
Christians throughout the world are praying for the success of this summit. Pope Francis asked pilgrims in Rome and Christians worldwide to join him in prayer for the success of the summit. He said he hopes the summit “may contribute to the development of a positive path that can assure a future of peace on the Korean peninsula and throughout the entire world.” He extended to “the beloved Korean people a particular thought in friendship and prayer.” He added, “Let us all together invoke Our Lady, Queen of Korea, that she may accompany these talks,” as he led the crowds assembled in Rome in reciting the Ave Maria with him that the summit may be successful.
You may recall that Pope Francis visited South Korea in 2014. South Korea has an active and vibrant Catholic community comprised of over 5.5 million members. During his 2014 Apostolic visit, Pope Francis said in his homily at Mass in the Cathedral of Myeong-dong, that everyone should “pray for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need and for an ever-greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people. They speak the same language.” Let us hope that this summit may bring his prayer to fruition.
The World Council of Churches is calling for prayers around the world for the success of the summit. They are holding a candlelight prayer service for peace at the chapel in its Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) is going to hold a candlelight prayer meeting in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square. The NCCK is also calling upon all Christians around the world to organize prayer gatherings on the day of the summit for its success. They also suggested that Korean Christians spend one minute in prayer each day for the success of the summit. Members from the United Methodist Church in both Korea and the United States are joining in prayer for the success of the summit. May peace come to people of Korea.
Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.