Amid continuing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Christians in Seoul are hoping the fragile light of candles will illumine a path to peace. Along with Christian groups around the world, they are holding candlelight vigils for peace during the season of Advent.
“The situation is bad. Powerful countries like to fight. But during this Advent season we gather to light candles and pray for the peaceful reunification of Korea, because even a small candle can illumine our path. Togetherness and solidarity are more powerful than darkness,” said the Rev. Lee Chung Jae, general secretary of the National Council of YMCAs of Korea.
The YMCA sponsored a chilly 9 December candlelight vigil in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square. It was the last of seven daily candlelight vigils in Seoul. For the remainder of Advent, similar vigils will be held in towns and villages across the country, according to the Rev. Lee Hong-jung, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea.
Rev. Dr Martin Robra, World Council of Churches programme executive for Ecumenical Continuing Formation, spoke at the final Seoul vigil.
“We share your sorrow about the tension of the current situation, but we rejoice with you that we can gather in this candlelight vigil as an expression of hope,” said Robra, who was in Seoul for a WCC consultation on ecumenical diakonia.
Robra told participants at the vigil that the struggle for peace in Korea was one of the key concerns of Christians gathered in Norway for the awarding of the 2017 Nobel Peace prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a WCC partner. That ceremony took place December 10 in Oslo.
“Our candles are a small light in the darkness,” Robra told participants at the Seoul vigil. “The fragile, flickering light of candles give us hope in the middle of the darkness. It stands for the fragile presence of the servant of God who will not give up until there is peace.”
The Seoul vigils were held in Gwanghwamun Square, the central location of the Candlelight Revolution that led to the resignation of President Park Geun-hye in March.
According to the Rev. Sungkook Park, executive secretary for partnership and ecumenical relations of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, such candlelight vigils have a long history in Korea, especially during the democratization process in the 1980s.
“Candlelight vigils are an expression of the Korean people, not just the churches. It is an expression which was successful in the past and we would like to continue it as we move towards peace and reconciliation and forgiveness,” he said.
The public witness occurs as tensions are heating up on the peninsula. Following a visit by a top United Nations official to North Korea, the international body issued a statement on December 9 declaring that “the current situation was the most tense and dangerous peace and security issue in the world today.”
In her acceptance speech in Oslo, ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn declared that “mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away.”
Park said the Korean people appreciate the solidarity manifested in the vigils and prayers of churches around the world.
“We Korean people don’t feel left alone. We are not facing these issues by ourselves. This accompaniment brings us a sense of togetherness and bonds us together,” Park said.
Photo: Paul Jeffrey/WCC
WCC urges all parties in Korean Peninsula confrontation to be instruments of peace (WCC press release of 22 November 2017)
WCC leadership celebrates steps toward world free from nuclear weapons (WCC press release of 22 November 2017)
As ICAN accepts Nobel Prize, peacemakers celebrate – and vow to work even harder(WCC press release 11 December 2017)