WCC assembly hopes to break barriers in divided Korea

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By Gladys Mangiduyos*

Thousands of people — representing about 560 million Christians in 110 countries — are attending the first assembly of the World Council of Churches to be held in northeast Asia.

The 10th WCC Assembly’s opening prayer Oct.30 included vibrant music from the 500-voice choir and an inspiring message of blessing from His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians.

He emphasized that the church’s moral preaching “must be an extension of Christ’s example of love and compassion…creating society not entirely without wounds, but with the spiritual tools to heal those wounds.”

Having the Oct. 30-Nov. 8 gathering on the Korean peninsula is a significant part of its mission. “Holding the assembly here in Busan is starting initiatives of diplomacy between two Koreas, it has concretized what role the church should play,” explained the Rev. Larry Pickens, a United Methodist member of the WCC Central Committee.

“Considering Korea’s challenging historical situation, this assembly has exhibited a model (for) breaking barriers, which is essential to the ecumenical movement.”

Korea’s pain and suffering during the 1950-53 Korean conflict has continued on, as was creatively presented in a musical performance for the assembly about Korea’s 5,000-year history and the growth of its churches. With a commitment to peace, the closing vision focused on the reunification of the Korean peninsula.

Witnessing for peace

A couple of days before the assembly started, a “Peace Train” organized by the National Council of Churches in Korea to raise awareness of the continuing division and campaign for reunification pulled into the Busan station.

Exposing young people to the witness of people of faith in Korea and elsewhere is imperative to the ecumenical movement. “It is fulfilling our duty as (the) WCC, which is a strong influence on unification, and it is bringing light to the very foundation where solutions to conflicts stem from,” said Christine Housel, top executive, World Student Christian Federation.

A priest from the Greek Orthodox Church in Lebanon, the Rev. George Dimas, said that converging in Busan  in solidarity with the emerging growth of Korea Christians, in the midst of their pain and suffering, is what ecumenical movement is all about.

In her letter to the United Methodist delegation at the assembly, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the denomination’s Council of Bishops, remarked upon being in solidarity by listening to the voices that never are heard.

“In the near neighborhood of Busan, there is a border that divides a nation,” she wrote. “Families and churches are separated from each other and in one part of Korea people are suffering from hunger and oppression.

“This is one example, of many, where you together with all delegates and participants will hopefully speak up in solidarity with those who are not able to make their voices heard.”

Solidarity as a people of justice and peace can be achieved by “undertaking a personal outreach to others, by regarding fellow human beings, without exception, in the full dignity and holiness of their personhood…,” Karekin II said. “Jesus leads us to a world of many dimensions: a house of many mansions, where many different people, from many different walks of life, can find a true home.”   

* Gladys Mangiduyos, a deaconess in the United Methodist Philippines Central Conference, is a UMNS correspondent at the World Council of Churches 10thAssembly in Busan, South Korea. News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or [email protected].

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