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North and South Koreans pray in Brazil for unity

North and South Koreans have prayed together with world church leaders for the peaceful reunification of their divided country and are urging the World Council of Churches, the world’s largest grouping of Christian denominations, to give that process a boost.

They prayed in the chapel of the Pontifical University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre during the WCC’s ninth assembly, the council’s highest governing body which meets once every seven years, taking place in 2006 for the first time in South America.

"This joint prayer meeting is another historic milestone in our journey together towards peace and reconciliation in the Korean peninsula," said WCC general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, in addressing the service.

Kobia recalled WCC initiatives since 1984 to start peace and reconciliation talks between South and North Korean churches, and he reiterated the WCC’s commitment to help facilitate meetings, which, he hoped, would finally reunite Korea.

"It is thus my fervent prayer that at the WCC 10th assembly participants will be coming from a united Korea," said Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya.

Earlier, the Rev. Paik Do-Woong, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Korea, stressed the need for the WCC and other churches and peace advocates to support efforts for reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. "We cannot afford another tragedy in the Korean peninsula because if that happens, world peace would be at stake," said Paik, who hails from South Korea.

In August 2003 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), the United States, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), China, Japan, and Russia convened in Beijing what are now called the Six-Party Talks.

At a side meeting during the WCC assembly, the Rev. Kim Yong-Bock of the Presbyterian Church of Korea said, "I don’t have much hope in the six-party nuclear talks [on North Korea]. But I have better hope in the role of the World Council of Churches in acting as a catalyst for the reunion of North and South Korea."

Kim, who heads the Advanced Institute for Integral Study of Life in Seoul, suggested, however, that the WCC "must understand what is at stake".

He cited a trade embargo on North Korea, which has yet to be lifted, and what he said is a "control-and-coerce" policy of the United States through the continued presence of some 30 000 US troops in South Korea.

Church leaders and academics say there is a challenge for Koreans and people from other parts of the world to help pave the way for the peaceful unification of the two Koreas which have been divided by a militarised demarcation line since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Victor Hsu of World Vision International credits the WCC for helping to "crack open" the Korean peninsula’s demarcation line. He says this happened when the WCC helped bring together representatives of the Pyongyang-based Korean Christians Federation and the Seoul-based National Council of Churches of Korea during a 1986 biblical seminar in Glion, near Geneva, in Switzerland.

"Ever since that meeting, many brothers and sisters from North and South Korea have been in contact with each other," said Hsu. "The Christian faith has helped many brothers and sisters to forget, if not transcend, the ideological divide that has separated them."

Although it has been torn by 900 invasions throughout its history, the Korean peninsula can still be reunited, says Professor Youngsook Kang, a Korean American on the board of the United Methodist Church in the USA. "A reunited Korea is possible because the whole peninsula has one people with common tradition, common language, and common ethnic origin," she said.

(c) Ecumenical News International