The distance between the North Korean and South Korean sides of the demarcation line (DMZ) near Panmunjom can be measured in a few metres.
Yet for Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), this short distance fails to mask a deeper and wider divide steeped in decades of pain and sadness experienced by the Korean people.
While visiting the North Korean side of the DMZ recently, Tveit said, "the pain of separation felt by Koreans on both sides of the border is hard to ignore and escape. They are a divided people, divided families, longing for peace and justice and to be reunited."
"Our objectives (in the WCC) are to work toward this peace and reunification," Tveit said following a recent visit to the North during which he met with newly appointed church leaders of the Korean Christian Federation (KFC) and leaders of the North Korean government.
Tveit was accompanied on the 5-day trip, 21 to 25 September, by Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima, from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.
The group visited the KCF’s Theological Seminary and construction site of the Chigol Church, a church in North Korea’s capital city, Pyongyang. They participated in the Sunday worship service at the Bongsang Church in Pyongyang, and a house church meeting.
The visit came one month before the WCC holds its 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea (South Korea) from 30 October to 8 November.
During meetings with the KCF chairman, Rev. Kang Myung Chul, and Ri Jong Ro, the KCF’s vice chairman and director of International Relations, discussions included the potential of holding talks in Geneva early in 2014 between church leaders from North and South Korea.
The idea of the Geneva talks was well-received during an hour-long meeting in Pyongyang with Kim Yong-nam, president, Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea.
Tveit reiterated to Kim Yong-nam the WCC’s commitment to work for a peaceful reunification of divided Korea, saying the upcoming WCC assembly will be “an opportunity to pray and encourage the attention of the international community, to work for renewed support and understanding of the WCC role for creating dialogue for reunification in the Korean peninsula”.
This is not the first time the WCC has convened talks between church leaders of North and South Korea. The WCC has been engaged in facilitating talks between churches in North and South Korea, since its Tozanso process was initiated in 1984. But with new leadership in the KCF and the North Korean government, and a new president in South Korea, there is hope the churches in North and South Korea, as well as others within the WCC membership, will have a more pronounced impact on moving reunification forward.
The issue of the divided Korea and reunification will be on the agenda at the WCC assembly with plans for a statement on peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula to be adopted by the assembly.
Former Korean official says peace on Korean peninsula is “need of the hour” (WCC news release of 5 June 2013)
WCC general secretary calls for end to increased tension on Korean peninsula (WCC news release of 9 April 2013)