Church leaders hold conference to call for peace in Korean peninsula

Church leaders from the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other countries gathered for a conference to call for peace, repentance and atonement in the Korean Peninsula in light of the continued war between the two neighboring countries.

(REUTERS / Jacquelyn Martin / Pool)South Korean soldiers look towards the North Korean side as a North Korean solder approaches the U.N. truce village building that sits on the border of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the military border separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, September 30, 2013.

For the first time, more than 320 clergy and laypeople from different countries attended a three-day symposium on the role of Catholics in fostering peace in the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia. Bishop Lee Ki-heon of Uijeongbu in South Korea told the delegates that repentance and atonement were needed so that peace would reign in the region, Crux relayed.

"I desperately realize it is repentance and atonement that is needed for reconciliation of the two Koreas, genuine forgiveness and peace," said Bishop Lee. "We are the proud descendants of martyrs who sacrificed themselves for justice and truth, while we haven't been strong enough to arbitrate (between) the two Koreas in the context of peace within the tragic history of the nation."

He then added: "It's time to reflect on our weak existence."

During a trip to the demilitarized zone in the middle of the peninsula, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego lamented the "alienation between South and North Korea" which the DMZ represents. The two countries are still technically at war, since they never signed a peace agreement during the culmination of the Korean War in 1953, and tensions still exist between them.

Last month, an interfaith rally was held at Seoul's World Cup soccer stadium to call for peaceful reunification of the two Koreas. Former CIA director James Woolsey spoke during the gathering and warned that there was a higher risk of an all-out war breaking out between the U.S. and North Korea amid the back-and-forth rhetoric, The Washington Times reported.

Woolsey's presence at the conference sparked tension among some of the participants, especially since the event was held in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's threat of raining "fire and fury" on North Korea. The American leader's statement was a response to the repressive regime's increasing missile tests.