Rev. Dr Sang Chang meets Pope Francis during the visit to WCC on 21 June 2018. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Rev. Dr Sang Chang meets Pope Francis during the visit to WCC on 21 June 2018. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Korea’s Christian leaders have urged Catholics to work together with the World Council of Churches (WCC) to help bring peace and reconciliation to their country.

Rev. Dr Sang Chang, president of WCC’s Asia region, and Rev. Dr Lee Hong-jeong, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) were speaking as Pope Francis visited the headquarters of the ecumenical movement in Geneva to mark the WCC’s 70th anniversary.

In an exclusive interview with the WCC, they talked about the vital role of the churches in helping the people of Korea to overcome the “Cold War consciousness” and to promote a culture of peace on the peninsula.

Lee said the “Cold War culture has been embedded deeply on both sides in the Korean peninsula”. But on the basis of the Panmunjom Declaration, which he described as the “political common ground of Korean people”, he said there is a new opportunity for the churches to promote dialogue and reconciliation.

Chang, who was appointed as the first female prime minister in South Korea, said Christians in her country “have been praying for peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula […] for almost 70 years”. Before, they were without “dreams or real hope,” she said, but “now hope is visible to us.”

As a Christian who was born in North Korea and escaped to the south as a child, she said, “I can see that the road to the north, and to the south, is slightly open,” offering the opportunity to “develop this road” together.

The two leaders have been attending the WCC Central Committee meeting all week, together with representatives of the church in North Korea.

On Saturday, at a 70th anniversary celebration at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute, members of both delegations linked arms and sang together a 600-year-old folk song, Arirang, that is the unofficial anthem of their nation.

Chang said, “As a Christian, I believe in the hand of God’s providence” but both she and Lee expressed their profound appreciation for the work of the WCC in accompanying the churches on the peninsula over the past three decades.

During unofficial visits to the north, Chang said she saw Christians worshipping in church on Sundays, but she added that people told her about others who “don’t attend Sunday services”. Her family was the “first family of Christians” in her home village, she said, adding that it is her “hope and belief” that “there will be churches again” as the political situation changes in North Korea.

Lee also stressed the important task that the Vatican can have alongside the WCC in continuing to play a “peace mediator role.”

Since the North Korean government has a “very clear will to normalise” relations with the international community, he said, “I think there will soon be a Vatican visit to North Korea “so that they can also normalise relations with the Vatican.”

Video: WCC interview with Korean Christian leaders: churches have vital role in peace process

North and South Korean church leaders issue call to pursue peace, lift sanctions on DPRK (WCC press release of 23 June 2018)

Learn more about recent ecumenical initiatives in Korea