Agency ignores calls to sever North Korea ties

A South Korean priest who was the first foreigner to cross the North Korean border following Pyongyang's nuclear test last week says that Catholic aid to the North will continue but that development projects for the poor will suffer as a result of political fallout from the test.

Korean Caritas director, Fr Paul Jeremiah Hwang Yong-yeon, told AsiaNews that the 9 October nuclear test is sure to deal a heavy blow to the work of the Catholic agency.

In spite of warnings from the South Korean government, Fr Hwang, support by his local bishop, met with North Korean government representatives on 11 October in order to keep commitments to the people of the North despite warnings and demands.

The priest told AsiaNews that under the "Sunshine Policy" of former president the Catholic Kim Dae-Jung, the South Korean government encouraged non-governmental organisations and supported their work in North Korea.

This policy "contributed to paving the way for harmony and mutual trust", Fr Hwang said.

However, the separation of the Korean peninsula and the war left severe wounds in people on both sides of the border which have still not healed 53 years after the end of the conflict.

"There are many South Korean people, especially those who experienced the Korean War, who blame the Seoul government, saying the efforts of the government to dissolve the communist regime in the North have been unsatisfactory," the priest said.

They also insist "that the dialogue with North Korea is useless and the government should stop sending all kind of humanitarian support and sever diplomatic relations with Pyongyang," Fr Hwang added.

As a result of the increased tensions following the recent nuclear test, many organisations dropped their plans to meet with North Korean partners, he said.

"We received many phone calls from government officials trying to stop us going to the North," Fr Hwang said.

"But the bishop of Daejon and President of the national Caritas, Mgr Lazzaro You Heung-sik, made a decision to go ahead with the meeting as scheduled, saying nothing and no one would stop Caritas' humanitarian efforts to help vulnerable people in need."

In fact, following Fr Hwang's visit, Caritas Korea will take over responsibility in 2007 for Caritas Internationalis for assistance and development programs, he said.

"I want to repeat that our work for the North Korean people cannot be stopped, not even by nuclear tests.

"However, if Pyongyang continues to defy the international community, many countries, especially South Korea, could stop or restrict part of the work of Caritas," Fr Hwang concluded, warning that donated funds could dry up if North Korea continued its tests.

Nuclear test "affects Caritas aid for the people" (Asia News, 18/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Caritas Internationalis
Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea

Disarmament, not armaments: Vatican on North Korea (CathNews, 11/10/06)

19 Oct 2006