The Vatican Secretary of State said this week that the Holy See supports cooperation over confrontation in efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin delivered a virtual keynote speech to the South Korean government’s annual forum to discuss issues concerning North Korea and the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
In his speech, the Vatican’s top diplomat highlighted St. John XXIII as a model for today’s Vatican diplomacy. John XXIII, who was pope from 1958 to 1963, is known for pursuing a policy of “Ostpolitik” in his diplomatic efforts with communist countries in Eastern Europe.
“To set out some … principles that can help define a new vision of relationships within the Korean Peninsula, I would draw inspiration from Pope John XXIII, who always emphasized the universal values that bring people together,” Cardinal Parolin said on Aug. 31.
“Pope John XXIII spared no effort to make world leaders understand the inestimable values of peace, and the value of dialogue, dialogue for bringing peoples of very different histories and traditions closer together,” he said in the live-streamed speech to the Korea Global Forum for Peace.
“As we know now, his personal intervention helped the opposing parties in the Cuban Missile Crisis to resolve the dispute peacefully,” he said.
Pope Francis also spoke highly of John XXIII in an interview aired on Sept. 1 touching on the Vatican’s diplomacy with China.
China is a key country in the future of the Korean Peninsula. Cardinal Parolin has been the leading architect of the Vatican’s China policy that resulted in the signing of a provisional agreement with the Chinese Communist Party government authorities in September 2018.
The pope said that “China is not easy,” but he remained committed to dialogue thanks in part to the example of Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, Vatican Secretary of State from 1979 to 1990, whom he described as a “key figure in all this and who helps me and inspires me.”
“Casaroli was the man John XXIII commissioned to build bridges with Central Europe,” Pope Francis said.
In Cardinal Parolin’s speech to those involved in negotiations between South and North Korea, the cardinal outlined a strategy of welcome, accompaniment, and listening in dialogue, saying that the Holy See supports “every effort to transform the international environment from confrontation to cooperation.”
“If we want to encourage and help one another, we have to dialogue. There is no need for me to stress the benefits of dialogue. I have only to think of what our world would be like without the patient dialogue of the many generous persons who keep families and communities together,” he said.
“Unlike disagreement and conflict, persistent and courageous dialogue does not make headlines, but quietly helps the world to live much better than we imagine.”
South Korea and North Korea have been engaged in dialogue for decades since the Korean Peninsula was divided along the 38th parallel after World War II, with the Soviet government backing the north and the United States supporting the south.
Two million Korean people died in the Korean War that followed from 1950 to 1953. The Korean Peninsula remains technically still at war, 68 years after the signing of the armistice.
In the 70 years of division, North Korea and South Korea have diverged sharply both economically and culturally.
North Korea has one of the worst human rights records in the world. A United Nations investigation in 2014 documented crimes against humanity, including execution, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, forced abortions, and knowingly causing prolonged starvation.
There are believed to be an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in North Korea’s six political prison camps, according to the U.S. State Department, which cites North Korean defector testimonies of starvation, forced labor, and torture.
“We might say that peace is friendship,” Parolin said in his speech.
“This means starting anew from processes that foster efforts to promote reconciliation, forgiveness, and rapprochement in the knowledge that this is a new path, a path to be traveled together with no one left behind,” the cardinal said.
Parolin said that “diplomacy is precisely the attempt to overcome all barriers and to come together to address the problems facing humanity today.”
The cardinal was asked to speak to the forum on “The Role of the Church to Build Peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Catholic bishops in Korea have been leading Catholics in prayer for the reconciliation and unity of the divided Korean peninsula for decades.
According to Archbishop Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju, Korean Catholics have observed June 25 as a day of prayer for the Korean Peninsula since 1965. The Korean bishops’ conference also established a Special Commission for the Reconciliation of the Korean People in 1997.
The persecution of Christians is worse in North Korea than anywhere else in the world, according to the World Watch List compiled by Open Doors, which estimates that there could be as many as 300,000 Christians practicing their faith underground in North Korea. Christians within the atheist state have faced arrest, re-education in a labor camp, or, in some cases, execution for their faith.
“The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the Modern World thus states that peace is more than the absence of war. It cannot be reduced to the maintenance of a balance of power between opposing forces, nor does it arise from out of a despotic dominium … It is the fruit of that right ordering of things with which the divine founder has invested the human society,” Parolin said.
“Peace is also the fruit of love, for love goes beyond what justice can achieve. We can say that peace is the fruit, not only of justice, but also of charity, the fruit of love. Whereas justice demands that we not violate the rights of others, and give to each individual what is due, charity makes us feel the needs of others, as our own, and fosters fruitful cooperation,” he said.