Peace initiatives and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula will be the foci of a worldwide Anglican peace conference November 14-20 when more than 150 Anglican leaders, ecumenical guests and other participants will travel to South Korea for TOPIK (Towards Peace in Korea).
The conference will begin with a three-day peace trip to Geumgangsan in North Korea, where delegates will meet employees of the Hyundai Asan Company and hear about its programs of development and economic support for projects in North Korea, including flood-relief aid. The visit to North Korea will be followed by a four-day forum in Paju, near Seoul, South Korea. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will preach at the November 16 opening Eucharist, which is expected to draw more than 400 worshippers.
The forum will introduce and summarize Korean experiences of war and forgiveness, conflict and reconciliation, and explore ways to contribute to establishing a permanent peace in Northeast Asia.
"This gathering promises to produce some lasting changes in the relationships with North Korea," Jefferts Schori said. "It seems especially timely given recent progress in talks with the North Korean government."
About 100 South Koreans will be joined by 40 overseas delegates from 20 countries, including Jefferts Schori; Japan Primate Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu; Taiwan Bishop David Lai; Archbishop Roger Herft of Perth (Australia); Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe of Kurunagala (Church of Ceylon, Sri Lanka); Bishop Terry Brown of Malaita (Solomon Islands); and Archbishop Francis Kyung Jo Park (Anglican Church of Korea). Peter Ng, partnership officer for Asia and the Pacific, and the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of Peace and Justice Ministries, will travel to Asia as part of an Episcopal Church delegation.
"The joint participation of Japanese and American representatives in a place of former warfare and occupation may provide opportunities for apology, forgiveness and the beginnings of reconciliation," said Jefferts Schori.
Recently retired Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Robin Eames will attend TOPIK as special emissary of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who has offered his full support for the conference. "The conference aims to further develop the mutual understanding necessary for successful peacemaking efforts and the church's role in them," Williams said in a letter of commendation.
Mission and development agencies represented will include the Church Mission Society, United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, Anglican Board of Mission, Episcopal Relief and Development and the Partnerships Department of the Anglican Church of Canada.
The forum venue in Paju, although close to Seoul, is also near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the heavily fortified zone which runs the width of Korea, dividing the Peninsula into two halves. In 2005, former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold prayed at the DMZ and met with South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun as part of a two-week visit to Asia.
The TOPIK conference was first envisioned in response to a 2005 resolution from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the Anglican Communion's chief legislative body, which called for peace, reconciliation and reunification between North and South Korea. Organizers hope the conference will support and encourage others working for peace in areas of conflict. The Anglican Church of Korea wishes to begin a longer-term program of aid to the north, continuing beyond the end of the conference.
"Although an armistice agreement ending hostilities was signed in 1953, no peace treaty has yet been signed to end the Korean War. It is only in this last year that the railway lines between North and South Korea have been rejoined, even if only for a trial run," a news release announcing the TOPIK conference reports. "More than 50 years of almost total separation has broken apart families and cut all the normal lines of communication. While this conference began in response to an ACC resolution, it now also represents a growing spirit among South Koreans [eager] to breach the division and heal the pain of separation over such a long period."
Grieves commended the Anglican Church in Koreaâs long tradition of witnessing for human rights and reconciliation on the peninsula.
"During the days of dictatorship in the south, it was a beacon of hope for its courageous call for democracy," he said. "It continues that tradition in its call for reunification with the north, and I think this conference will be a major building block in that direction. We in the U.S. church will have to do our part to advocate that our government's policy is consistent with the goal of reunification."