New liberal government in Seoul seeks Pope’s backing for peace talks

by WorldTribune Staff, May 24, 2017

South Korea’s newly-elected President Moon Jae-In dispatched a delegation to the Vatican on May 23 on a mission to seek support from Pope Francis for North-South Korean peace talks.

The delegation was led by Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-Joong, who also asked the pope to “pray for the improvement of the strained inter-Korean relations,” Yonhap reported.

Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-Joong, special envoy for South Korean President Moon Jae-In, at the Vatican after meeting with Pope Francis. / Yonhap

Leftist opposition forces to conservative President Park Geun-Hye orchestrated “candle-light” mass demonstrations in Seoul over the past year, demanding her impeachment.

Moon played a central role in those uprising and rode to power in the brief campaign that followed Park’s ouster. A central theme in his campaign was his willingness to go to Pyongyang for talks to improve bilateral relations.

“The Vatican in the past has played a behind-the-scenes role in the normalization of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties and the Colombian peace agreement,” the archbishop said, suggesting that the pope and the Vatican could contribute substantively to resolving inter-Korean conflict and establishing peace.

The delegation’s visit, occurring at the same time U.S. President Donald Trump was at the Vatican, comes as Moon’s hopes of peace summits with North Korea have been frustrated by the Kim Jong-Un regime’s continued threats to the U.S. and Japan and its march toward nuclear warheads and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Related: Key U.S. alliance in Northeast Asia put to the test with election of new South Korean leader, May 19, 2017

Late last month, Pope Francis warned that “a good part of humanity” will be destroyed if tensions with North Korea escalate, and called for diplomacy and for the United Nations to take the lead in negotiating a resolution.

In a letter to the pope, Moon reportedly thanked Francis for his efforts in supporting and comforting the poor during his visit to South Korea in August 2014.

Francis’s visit to South Korea in 2014 left a lasting impression on the Korean people, the Yonhap report said, as it was “packed with meetings with the country’s marginalized – grieving families who lost their loved ones in the Sewol disaster, disabled people living in a rehabilitation center, North Korean defectors settled in the country and migrant workers mostly from Southeast Asian countries.”

Archbishop Kim also said he conveyed Moon’s wish to visit the Vatican and said that the pope responded by saying he is “always welcome.”