Korea: Buddhist, Catholic clergy complete 400-km peace pilgrimage

 A Buddhist monk and two Catholic priests have concluded a 400-kilometre pilgrimage to help people cherish life and peace.

On 6 June, at Imjingak, near the cease-fire line with North Korea, Venerable Sukyung and Fathers Paul Moon Kyu-hyon and Simon Chun Jong-hun completed the journey they began nine months earlier at Jirisan, a mountain in the south.

During their pilgrimage, they prostrated themselves after every three steps they took, and kept silent throughout. The prostration, or ochetuji, is part of Buddhist tradition and involves touching one's elbows, knees and forehead to the ground.They took two breaks during their journey which started on 4 September last year. The first was a one-week break, the second was from 29 October to 29 March, when freezing weather prevented them from continuing with their journey.

In their statement released on 6 June, the pilgrims said they had seen increasing threats to peace and people's living conditions on the Korean peninsular during their journey.

"Our democracy has weakened and our lives have become harsher. People are in extreme distress and the peninsular is on the verge of war," they stated.

They also highlighted several conflicts, including one at Yongsan, central Seoul, the site of a fatal protest earlier this year. Five citizens and a police officer were burned to death on 20 January while authorities were evicting tenants from a building scheduled for redevelopment.

The pilgrims also highlighted the government's planned revision of media laws, its 500 kilometre pan-Korea waterway plan which people fear would damage the environment, inter-religious conflicts and worsening relations with North Korea.

Pilgrims who accompanied the clergy during the pilgrimage shared their views.

Father Mark Kim In-kook, from the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice, told UCA News that the pilgrims "showed what religious communities in our society can do for the common good."

He added: "Society looks toward economic profit, which has caused great tragedies in our society. Religions should reverse this trend to secure peace and life."

As many as 10,000 people joined the three clergymen at various points of their journey.

But the pilgrims were unable to attain their original goal of crossing the South Korean border to reach Myohyangsan Mountain in North Korea to pray for peace and reunification on the peninsula.

Though the North Korean government had granted them permission to enter the country, Venerable Jigwan, one of the assisting pilgrimage staff, told UCA News they were unable to obtain permission from the South Korean government. The permission of both governments is required for South Koreans to cross the border.

They said they would try and attain their original objective at a later date.

The Hankyoreh national daily newspaper voiced its appreciation of the pilgrims' efforts in an 8 June editorial.

"The pilgrims have urged us to reflect on social struggles and conflicts," it said. "They have prayed for coexistence between power holders and common people, the haves and have-nots, and between North Korea and South Korea."

In 2003, Father Moon and Venerable Sukyung completed a similar pilgrimage of about 310 kilometers to protest a controversial land reclamation project.

Source: www.ucanews.com

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