1998 will perhaps go down in history as the most humiliating yet most proud year in the 2000-year history of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church through the document entitled "Confession of the Vatican" repented and confessed its past wrongdoings for the first time in history. This was unthinkable in previous time.
The gist of the penitence and confession is about how the Catholic Church kept quiet and merely existed as onlookers during Hitler's Nazi regime from 1940-45 when about 4 million Christians, including Protestant and Catholic priests, and intellectuals and 6 million Jews were being killed en masse in the gas chambers of Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps and burning to ashes, disappearing from the face of the earth.
While such egregious attempts to obliterate an entire race were running rampant, the Catholic Church failed to resist in any meaningful manner, failed to cry out for human dignity and the value of human life. On march 22 this year, I met Pope Benedict XVI here in Rome, out on the square before the San Pietro Basilica and conveyed the following message.
"Human rights and religious freedom are urgent issues in North Korea. Today, in that country, more people are dying in prison than during the Nazi era. Those people in NK are waiting for the voices of the Pope, the Catholic Church, and the catholic churches in South Korea. It is high time that the Catholic Church scream out for the cause of human rights and religious freedom in NK. To this. His Holyness repeatedly said "thank you", showing an expression on his face that he completely sympathizes with the problem.
In our world today, there is a country that ruthlessly persecutes its people for believing in a religion, executes them in public, and confines them to political prison camps even as we speak.
That country is NK. In that country, egregious acts of cruel torture and 60 years of religious persecution, executions, diseases, and hunger are on-going, And as Mr. Kang Cheol Hwan has testified, three generations are locked up in the Yoduk political prison camp. To this date, 60 years into the era following the most tragic world war, such atrocities are common in NK.
While the Catholic Church remains silent, the North Koreans are dying away. According to an expert on NK, a testimony given in June this year says that each year, about 400 NK residents are being shot to death for the mere reason that they are Christians. These people are true martyrs.
Our apathy and non-resistance are leading to the deaths of too many. NK, for the past 60 years, has treated human dignity and life as no different from that of a wild beast, in order to sustain its atheist one-man dictatorship and worship of an idol. It erected 33,000 statues of Kim Il-sung all over the country, forcing its people to worship the now-dead dictator as "their living god." NK is one large group of worshippers of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. NK is not a modern state in the sense we commonly know.
During 3 1/2 years from 1996-98 when the food shortage problem was exceptionally serious. NK residents who died from persecution, starvation, malnutrition, or diseases numbered around 3.5 million. This toll is the official statisties compiled by the UN and other international organizations. There maybe more, as Hwang Jang-yup testified that around 50,000 people belonging to the elite communist party were also sacrificed during that period.
Taking into account all the hopeless souls that died over the last 60 years due to chronic food shortage and famine, the toll in NK would probably outnumber the 6 million Jews killed during Nazi Germany.
In March 2000, two years after the epoch-making "Confessions of the Vatican" was released, the Catholic Church of Korea published a book of penitence titled "Renewal and Reconciliation."
Through this book, the Catholic Church of Korea apologizes for past failures. In article 3. the Church "regrets its lack of effort in striving to bridge the divided nation and bring about reconciliation and unity among all Korean People ; and in article 4. the Church "repents its failure to take more active stance in promoting the human rights and welfare of those sidelined and discriminated against."
I must make note here that more need to be added to articles 3 and 4.
"Group of worshippers of Kim Il-sung and Kim, Jong-il" and the "20 million NK residents" should be distinguished. Such groups of people should not be left out. We need to add the Church's official position that Kim Jong-il's sincere penitence, religious freedom so yearned for, and protection of human rights and dignity are to be the prerequisites for true inter-Korean reconciliation and unity.
The Catholic Church of Korea seeks reconciliation and oneness with the 20 million NK residents, not the communist regime of Kim Jong-il. From the teaching of the Bible and Church, we know that Kim Jong-il and his regime is worthy of penitence and obliteration only. In article 4. the Church repents its lack of effort in promoting NK human rights and welfare, but says nothing about the apathy and helplessness in coming to the aid of NK's whose human rights have been violated and religious freedom untolerated over 6 long decades. This should also be added into the book.
The Catholic Church of Korea must also add that it repents for its apathy toward the numerous martyrs who were sacrificed around the time of the Korean War, including 3 bishops, 84 priests, and many other Christians. We must confess that for a decade from 1995 to 2005, the Catholic Church of Korea donated over 115 billion wons to the head of the North Korean Catholic Association(CHANG Jae-un) and yet faild to do anything to urge for preliminary studies for beatification and canonization of the martyrs and merely looked on as NK's "church of silence" turned into a "church of death".
Even while the support from the Inter-Korean Reconciliation Committee to NK was continuing, the Jang-chung Church faded way even more compared to 16 years ago when I last visited it as part of my trip to Pyongyang in 1990 to attend the IPU General Assembly.
That Church was dark as night, no mass was being held, and its committee chair Cha Sung-geun(Julio) was presumed dead by the hands of the authority. In short, persecution and elimination of Catholics and the Catholic Church were much more serious than before the financial assistance.
All this is why we cannot remain silent and turn a blind eye to the crimes committee against the 20 million NK residents by Kim Jong-il's regime, while calling Hitler a great sinner. If the more classical liberties such as freedom of political speech and travelling are considered luxuries, then shouldn't at least the basic freedom to move about, talk and pray be granted?
Having said that, then what should be the attitude of the Catholic Church of Korea toward the NK regime? In the history of the Catholic Church, the two individuals that were most active and persistent in prayer and action with regard to the communist atheists were the Holy Mother and Pope John Paul II. One of the secret messages given to a girl named Lucia by the Holy Mother who appeared in Fatima in 1917 was a warning against the atheist forces of Soviet Communism and the penitence and disintegration of communists.
The "Blue Army of Our Lady" created by Father Harold Kohlgen of the U.S. in 1947 also predicts the penitence and collapse of the communist atheists, which was also the goals of its global activity. In addition, the election of Pope John Paul II(Cardinal Wojtyla of the Communist Poland) in 1978, a period when the influence of the Soviet and East European communists was strong, was a monumental event that served as the precise and decisive signal and spark for realization of the Holy Mother's message of Fatima.
The Catholic Church of Korea must pay strict attention to the report of the June 27 edition of the South China Morning Post that the special envoy of Pope Benedict XVI and the ten-member Vatican negotiating team visited Beijing for over a week and engaged in secret bilateral negotiations on opening diplomatic ties, and that prospects for renewed diplomatic relations between the two countries before the 2008 Beijing Olympics look optimistic. Furthermore on March 27, during audience with the Pope, the Hong Kong Catholics requested that the Pope visit China and he replied in the affirmative. An authority of the Vatican in fact has already said that the conditions are ripe and that it is highly likely that the Vatican and China will resume diplomatic ties prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
I believe that the wind of the Holy Spirit that began in China will soon escalate into proportions of a typhoon, and the reach of the Holy Mother and Holy Spirit will quickly pervade NK with powerful momentum. I am absolutely convinced that God will not ignore the ailing people of NK, an atheist state where 33,000 human statues are erected for coerced worship as a "living god" over the last 60 years, and have their desperate cries fall on deaf ears... Just as God did not turn away at the sound of Susanna's cries who unjustly died and moved Daniel....
The 20 million NK residents are our partners for reconciliation, forgiveness, love, and cooperation. Let it be clear, however, that Kim Jong-il and his regime are ones who should be penitent and dismantled. The Catholic Church must stand by the side of the 20 million brothers and sisters and raise its voice of justice and evangelism. Reconciling with communist dictators is neither a part of Catholic teachings nor the wish of the Holy Mother. It also runs counter to the spirit of human dignity and human life which Pope John Paul II called "the highest value and the raison d'etre of the Church"
Now it is not too late for the Church of Korea to stand up. It must pray in loud tones with strength and courage so that it will vibrate across NK. It must also spread the desperate and sorrowful prayers of North Koreans to the rest of the world. We must encourage them not to give up hope and to believe that the Christianity will come rescue the people dying from disease and hunger while living in deplorable conditions.
There are times in history when we must stay silent and there are times when we must speak up. It is time for the Korean Church to speak up. The world is watching the Catholic Church of Korea. A Church of 103 martyrs-saints. They remember the Myungdong Cathedral, a symbol of human rights, democracy and freedom during the military dictatorship of South Korea, and they are watching the Catholic Church of Korea.
The Catholic Church of Korea can no longer afford to remain silent on the predicaments of NK residents. For the sake of their human rights, religious freedom, and their future reconstruction of the Church, we must act now before it is too late, so as not to regret what we hadn't done on some day to come. Thank you.
(Speech at the Conference of Rome, Freedom House and Partito Radicale Transnationale, on July 12, 2006)
Mr. KIM, Hyunuk is a graduate of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
and received Ph.D of political science from Wien University, Austria.
He was professor at Dankuk University
and served as Member of National Assembly 4 times.
Now Chairman of International Forum for Reunification and National Security.
An editor of AWARE.