Europe and the Middle East—The second webinar of the Think Tank 2022 Global Forum presented the views of faith representatives concerning Korean reunification.
The session, titled “Can Peace Be Achieved by Human Means Alone? – Ending 70 Years of Painful Division on the Korean Peninsula,” was held on February 1 by the Europe-Middle East branch of UPF’s Interreligious Association for Peace and Development (IAPD).
The eight webinars of the Think Tank 2022 Global Forum were held from February 1 to 3 as a precursor to the events of World Summit 2022, which would be held in Seoul, South Korea, and online from February 11 to 13.
The Think Tank 2022 webinars were held not only in Europe and the Middle East but also in Asia, Africa, and the Americas by UPF and its associations. Several of the online sessions were held jointly with UPF associations from other continents.
In his opening remarks, Heiner W. Handschin, the coordinator of IAPD for Europe and the Middle East, said it was high time to bring the problem on the Korean Peninsula into global focus, to make leaders realize that this painful division and stalemate must end.
Mentioning that the Think Tank 2022 webinars were taking place at the same time as the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week, Mr. Handschin said that IAPD celebrates interreligious harmony, while mobilizing ethical people, faith leaders, key religious figures, and people of conscience to address the situation on the Korean Peninsula, so that the Koreans may find a place of peaceful coexistence, harmony and good neighborliness.
Next a video was shown of the World Interfaith Harmony Week anthem for 2015, Sami Yusuf’s song “The Gift of Love.”
The session moderator was Mrs. Gabriela Mieli, the coordinator of UPF for Southern Europe.
Mrs. Mieli introduced the first speaker, Rev. Dr. William A. McComish, the dean emeritus of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland.
Tragically, he said, secular forces have failed for 70 years to remedy the situation on the Korean Peninsula, which was created against the will of the Koreans, “unlike the division of my homeland, Ireland, that results from discord among its own population.”
The major powers concerned have vested interests in a divided Korea, Reverend McComish said. So far, secular leaders haven’t come up with any plausible solutions. Politicians tend to be interested in power and pride, rather than in people’s needs, he said. Unsurprisingly, there is a widespread crisis of confidence in authority of all kinds, especially among young people in the Western world.
There is hope in divine guidance, however, since God is still interested in human life and undoubtedly will continue to act in history, Reverend McComish said. God’s spiritual divine force should not be confused with modern religious institutions, which suffer a crisis of authority due to, among other factors, fanaticism and immorality. Without the power of God, humans cannot succeed, he said.
Emina Frljak, the program coordinator of Youth for Peace in Bosnia & Herzegovina, said that to achieve unification on the Korean Peninsula, reconciliation must happen both in politics and in the hearts of the people. To be ready to genuinely live with each other, rather than merely coexist, is a long and difficult process. The best the international community can do is to listen to the people who are part of the process and to act as mediators, she said.
Research conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has shown that there can be a big difference in how Koreans emotionally experience the prospects of unification and how they reason cognitively, Ms. Frljak said. For that reason, the differences between North and South Koreans must not be overlooked.
She said that her experience of working on sensitive issues, such as reconciliation, forgiveness, and establishing connections among people, taught her that people find comfort in faith and spirituality. Because the latter is not necessarily linked to a specific religion, non-religious people also should be considered. Faith-based organizations, religious people, and people of faith must raise awareness among politicians and the people about the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
As youth are part of the present and the future, Ms. Frljak called for an intergenerational dialogue as part of the peace process. Citing a UN article, she said, “Youth are not a problem for older people to solve; they are actively a part of the solution.” In the Korean context, the older generation still have memories of a unified peninsula, while the younger generation have grown up in a divided country.
Nikolay Kizimov from Russia, the director of the “Great Nation” spiritual and moral center, said that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many were searching for spiritual knowledge. While reading the sacred books, he discovered, among other things, that many norms of communist ideology were taken from the Bible; that sacred books are a fount of knowledge; that not only scientists who discover the laws of nature should be admired but also the Lord, who created them.
Mr. Kizimov gave some historical examples of what belief in God has meant for Russia. In World War II, when the fascist German troops had reached Moscow, Joseph Stalin addressed the population with the words “brothers and sisters” and ordered a plane with the icon of the Virgin of Kazan to fly over the city. And the Lord helped them. There was an icy cold spell in the autumn, for which the German troops were not equipped. Adolf Hitler reportedly said: “It was not Stalin who defeated me, but some kind of force.”
World history has seen many leaders who considered themselves great and omnipotent, Mr. Kizimov said. Personality cults emerged which the population eventually opposed. On this subject Matthew 23:9 reads, “And do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”
The sacred books of world religions define the norms of human behavior, Mr. Kizimov said. By implementing them, true happiness will be found.
Lejla Hasandedić-Dapo, a psychologist, psychotherapist, and Europe CC liaison officer for United Religions Initiative based in Turkey, who grew up in war-torn Bosnia & Herzegovina in the 1990s, gave a personal testimony about how she became a peacebuilder.
She was staying in Mostar, a city where Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats lived completely segregated from each other. She went to an experimental school where both Bosnian and Croat children studied under one roof, although initially they had curricula and teachers of their own. One day, the student council came up with the idea to cross the iconic old bridge of Mostar, which was rebuilt after it had been destroyed in the war. As it is located in the Bosnian section of Mostar, many Croats had never set foot on the bridge. This small initiative, which symbolized the bridging of a deep gap in the minds of the participants, turned out to be a life-changing experience.
Mrs. Hasandedić-Dapo met a participant whose father had been responsible for the death of her grandmother. Although she had to deal with a lot of strong emotions, she decided, after long talks with the boy, that she would forgive him and his family. This was the beginning of her peacebuilding journey, from a person hating others to someone who is forgiving.
She hopes that young people in North and South Korea, who are living separately from each other, soon may cross the border and bridges in their minds and live peacefully together. Finally, she called on the audience to step out of our comfort zones, meet “the other side,” and become the change that we want to see in the world.
Venerable Dr. Michel Thao Chan from France, the president of Cercle de Réflexion des Nations, said that in these past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we often have called on God to give us hope, a sense of life and the great sacredness of life. He said he has asked God whether peace can be achieved by human beings alone. Only recently has God let him understand that there is no God Almighty for us to turn to, because the keys to inner peace, love, compassion and prosperity are to be found in our hearts. After all, God the Creator created humans in His own image, full of love, peace and compassion.
Dr. Chan mentioned the preamble to the constitution of UNESCO declared in 1945: “Since wars begin in the mind of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” Moreover, he said, the opposite of war is not merely peace but creation from the heart. It is above, it transcends peace. In 2006 Dr. Chan therefore proposed in the UN: “Peace is in the heart of people, so it is in the heart of people that peace has to blossom.”
A study entitled “The Korean Reunification, a Transformative Opportunity for Understanding the World Peace of People and Nations,” conducted by Dr. Chan, mentioned the following points:
First: Problems of reunification cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness as where they were created.
Second: Actions and projects made justifiable in the name of reunification have to be gradually removed from information and education in the two Koreas. Solutions must be rooted in the convergence of the soul of the Korean people.
Dr. Chan said the governments of North and South Korea both have proclaimed that the restoration of Korea as a single state is their goal.
The end of 70 years of painful division on the Korean Peninsula and world peace, Dr. Chan said, depend on the concordance of: the Providence of Heaven (inner peace); a favorable environment (peace among all beings); and peace between peoples and nations (universal peace), which can be summarized in the mantra “Om Peace, Peace, Peace.”
Responding to the question of how interfaith cooperation could affect the Korean peace process, Rev. Dr. William A. McComish said that Koreans are very religious. He suggested that a day be organized on which all Koreans, and all people outside Korea who are concerned about Korea, pray for the reunification of Korea, the well-being of its citizens, peace in the world and the glory of God.
Asked to elaborate on the role that youth, and interfaith youth, can play in bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula, Emina Frljak said that, on the one hand, there must be political will. On the other hand, at the level of the population, willing young people must claim their space in society and then live up to it, cooperate and contribute. She believes that the power of prayer plus action can bring change.
Answering the question of how distrust and enmity between the citizens of North and South Korea can be prevented, Nikolay Kizimov said that Kim Jong Il visited the Russian Far East city of Khabarovsk in August 2002. Inspired by a visit to the cathedral, he ordered an Orthodox church to be built in Pyongyang. We should really promote a religious culture in North Korea, Mr. Kizimov said. He mentioned a Russian saying: “Even though the truth is hard, it is better than a lie.” Therefore, people should be educated so that God’s spark can enlighten their lives, he said.
At the end of the session, Gabriella Mieli said the founders of UPF, Father and Mother Moon, spent their whole lives and mission for world peace and the reunification of their homeland, Korea. Reading their life stories makes us realize the importance of balance between the inner—the spiritual—and the outer—practical actions. It is important to discover our talents and qualities as a gift from our Creator in order to live for the sake of others, she said.
Mrs. Mieli said that one of the recent programs initiated by Mother Moon, called “Peace Starts with Me,” is the starting point of a dialogue between myself and the Creator, between myself and my brothers and sisters, and finally of the reunification of anything divided in the universe. Let’s make a start with the Korean Peninsula, she said.
Heiner Handschin said he was “deeply touched by all the great speakers” and that it had been “a wonderful session.” He said, “We can understand what kind of resources we have. If we can bring that to work, I think there can be hope for a peaceful reunification among the Korean people and the world.”