By Kristine Greenaway
Korean churches are developing plans for a “peace train” that would travel from Berlin through Moscow and Beijing to Busan, South Korea in time for the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) global assembly in October 2013.
The plan is to draw attention to the need for peace and reunification in the Korean peninsula, the churches said, and North Korea also would be on the route of the train, which would carry church and civil society representatives.
“Peace Together 2013, a committee of the National Council of Churches of Korea [NCCK], is working with the governments on the plan,” said Chae Hye-won, Director of the Committee of Reconciliation and Reunification of the NCCK.
A team of ten South Korean Christian leaders will begin a short version of the proposed 16-day trip on 28 May when they travel from Geneva to Beijing.
NCCK is also in early phases of discussion about how to work with the governments of North and South Korea to prepare a peace treaty to be signed in 2013 that marks the 60th anniversary of the ceasefire treaty that ended the Korean War.
The impetus for the two initiatives is the WCC assembly scheduled for 30 October to 8 November. The assembly’s program will focus on plans for interchurch initiatives on peace, justice and environmental protection in the seven-year period leading to the next assembly.
The North Korean government is being offered the assistance of a Christian South Korean non-governmental organization, “Rail for Hope,” to upgrade its railroad system as part of a plan to support the isolated country.
The arrival of a peace train or the signing of a church-brokered peace treaty would be a strong sign of the role of Korean churches in peace and reunification efforts. However, the initiatives do not have the unanimous support of the country’s churches. Still, despite initial controversy, representatives from churches in North and South Korea have held several joint meetings since 1984 to promote reunification issues.
Since 1996, South Korea’s NCCK and the Korea Christian Federation in the north have also worked together each year to create joint prayers in a process initiated by WCC. The prayer issued for Easter 2012 was prepared at a meeting in China of Korean church representatives. Meetings between ordinary people is unusual on the divided peninsula where North Korea is a generally closed society.
Byun Chang-bae, a South Korean Presbyterian pastor and long-time advocate for democracy and reunification in the Korean peninsula, shared news of the peace initiatives and joint prayers at a consultation underway in Busan this week among communication staff from WCC member churches and Korean Christian journalists.
The consultation is expected to produce a statement encouraging churches to use contemporary media approaches to advocate for peace, justice and protection of the environment. Byun is serving as a resource person to the event sponsored by the Korean Host Committee for the WCC assembly, the World Association for Christian Communication and WCC’s Office of Communication.
Twenty-nine per cent of South Korea’s population of 47 million is Christian, 23 per cent is Buddhist and the rest are officially of “no religion” though many of these are shamanist. There are an estimated 15,000 Christians in North Korea, including Catholics and Protestants.