In a move aimed at bridging political as well as ecumenical divides, Pope Francis during a day-trip to Geneva met with representatives from both North and South Korea who are in Geneva for a gathering aimed at promoting unity among Christians.
The brief meeting, attended by four delegates each from both North and South Korea, took place before Pope Francis entered the main hall in the headquarters of the World Council of Churches (WCC) during his June 21 trip to Geneva to celebrate the organization's 70th anniversary.
For decades the WCC has been actively involved in promoting peace and unity on the Korean peninsula. The organization's president for Asia, Sang Chang, helped to organize the meeting with Koreans.
Chang is a minister with the Presbyterian Church in South Korea, and is widely known for her work in promoting peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, as well as women's rights.
According to a communique from the WCC earlier this week, the North and South Korean delegations sang together June 17 as part of the organization's 70th anniversary celebrations, linking arms and joining their voices in singing a 600-year-old folk song called Arirang.
Thursday's meeting between Pope Francis and the Korean delegates came after several high-profile meetings among leaders from North Korea, South Korea, and the United States.
In April a historic step was taken when North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un crossed the military demarcation line within the Demilitarized Zone, which has divided the Korean peninsula since 1953, to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on southern soil.
During the summit, both leaders signed the Panmunjeom Declaration stating, among other things, that “there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun.”
The leaders agreed to “the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula” and to actively pursue further meetings with the United States, and possibly China, to establish a more permanent peace.
It didn't take long for a meeting between leaders from North Korea and the U.S. to meet. Kim and President Donald Trump met for a historic summit earlier this month in Singapore, making commitments “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”
After the one-on-one with Kim, which focused largely on denuclearization, Trump attended an expanded bilateral meeting, which was attended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and National Security Advisor John Bolton.
As a result of the meetings, Kim and Trump signed a joint-statement with four specific parts to the agreement, including a commitment to establish new U.S.-North Korea ties; to work toward achieving peace on the Korean peninsula, with a promise from Trump to end military exercises with South Korea; a promise from Kim to work toward the total denuclearization of the Korean peninsula; and a commitment to recover and repatriate POW/MIA persons.
Pope Francis has long advocated for peace on the Korean peninsula, and in April praised Kim and Moon for their “courageous” step toward unity, saying he prays for “the positive success of the Inter-Korean summit...and the courageous commitment assumed by the leaders of the two parts to carry out a path of sincere dialogue for a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.”
The meeting between Korean delegates at the WCC in Geneva, then, was a further effort to advance reconciliation not only on a political level, but an ecumenical one.
The WCC was founded in 1948 and is a global fellowship of Churches and ecclesial communities whose goal is to promote unity among Christian confessions.
With some 348 members worldwide, the organization has long been a driving force for ecumenism in Europe. Members are present in 110 countries and represent more than 500 million Christians.
The Holy See is not a member of the WCC, but it is an observer, and collaborates with the organization in several areas.