On the eve of President Trump’s visit to the Holy See, the newly elected president of South Korea sent a special envoy to ask for Vatican support in efforts to foster reconciliation in the Korean peninsula.
Bishop Hyginus Kim Hee-jong, archbishop of Gwangju and president of the Korean Bishops Conference, served as South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s special envoy for a one-week mission.
He was able to meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, on May 23, and to talk briefly with Pope Francis at the end of morning Mass in Domus Sanctae Marthae on May 26.
“I was sent by the president to ask the Holy Father for his support in the reconciliation process between North and South Korea, and I hope the Vatican can act as a mediator,” he told CNA.
He added that the mediation “could be the same as the mediation made during the restoration of relations between Cuba and the Unites States.”
Bishop Kim said that one of the main goals of the mission is to ask the Holy See to facilitate the opening of relations between North Korea and the United States, which “would help Korea in the path toward reconciliation” with the South, as at the moment “North Korea has not the trust of Western countries.”
The bishop stressed that “dialogue is the only way. North Korea is trying to show its military strength, but we have to keep engaging in dialogue. If North Korea becomes open to dialogue, tensions in the Korean peninsula will drop.”
Bishop Kim said that the meeting with Cardinal Parolin was scheduled to be only 15 minutes, but lasted instead 45 minutes.
“Cardinal Parolin,” he underscored, “wanted to know in depth the situation in South Korea and the relations with the North. He agreed that dialogue is the only way out.”
The meeting with Pope Francis was just a short greeting at the end of the morning Mass. It lasted about five minutes, and Bishop Kim briefed the Holy Father on the Korean situation. “The Pope seemed very interested to get the details,” he said.
According to the bishop, “the Catholic Church is a reference point in South Korea. For any issue of national interest, they look at the Catholic Church, and look for the Church’s statements and recommendations.”
Bishop Kim is familiar with the situation inside North Korea, and has able to travel across the border a number of times. He will be in the North again next week as part of a delegation of seven South Korean religious leaders invited by Pyongyang to a meeting.
“There is the wish for North Korea to allow Catholics to travel to the South, and let South Korean priests to meet the communities in the North,” he explained.
“The Holy See has always been on the side of Korea in the difficult moments of its history, and we hope this will happen again. If we achieve peace between North and South Korea, we state as from now our commitment to work for peace in East Asia and, on a larger scale, for peace in the world. We want to be a tool for peace.”