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Bishop Cantu calls for diplomacy to ease U.S.-North Korea differences

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Diplomacy and political engagement are necessary to resolve the differences between the United States and North Korea and avoid a military conflict, the chairman of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee said in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M.,  chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace,  talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington last March. The bishop wrote an Aug. 10 letter to Tillerson calling for diplomatic efforts to avoid a war between the U.S. and North Korea. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington last March. The bishop wrote an Aug. 10 letter to Tillerson calling for diplomatic efforts to avoid a war between the U.S. and North Korea. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Writing Aug. 10, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, echoed a recent call from the Korean bishops’ conference to support talks to secure the peaceful future of the Korean Peninsula.

Bishop Cantu acknowledged that the escalating threat of violence from North Korea’s leaders cannot be “underestimated or ignored,” but that the “high certainty of catastrophic death and destruction from any military action must prompt the United States to work with others in the international community for a diplomatic and political solution based on dialogue.”

The letter follows days of back-and-forth threats between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Trump has threatened to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” in response to Kim’s warnings of imminent attacks on the U.S. Meanwhile, Kim has said his country was preparing to fire missiles into waters around Guam, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean with two military bases.

The angry talk between the leaders has escalated since the Aug. 5 passage at the United Nations of new economic sanctions threatening to cut off a third of North Korea’s exports. Russia and China, two of Pyongyang’s few economic trading partners, supported the sanctions. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations also adopted a statement expressing “grave concern” over North Korea’s actions related to the development of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.

From North Korea came an announcement that the country is reviewing plans to strike U.S. military targets in Guam with medium-range ballistic missiles to create “enveloping fire.” In response, the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, in an Aug. 9 statement said everyone there should “stay grounded in the peace of Christ. Look to God during these difficult times when world peace is threatened and pray always.”

“Please pray that the Holy Spirit will instill in the leaders of our country and all the nations the virtues of wisdom and understanding to promote peace rather than war.”

The statement, issued by Father Jeffrey C. San Nicolas, a spokesman for the archdiocese, also reiterated what Guam’s governor, Eddie Calvo, has advised, that al on the island “remain calm and trust that the security of our island is in good hands with local and national defense forces in place to address such threats.”

“This is the time for all of us to come together,” the priest said. “If a family member, co-worker or neighbor is troubled, take time to talk to them, pray for them and remind them of the providence of Our Lord. We place our complete trust in our God.”

In his letter Bishop Cantu said his committee agreed with the stance of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea in its support for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal for humanitarian and military talks with North Korea.

“In solidarity with the Catholic Church in Korea and the efforts of the South Korean government, we urge the United States to encourage and support these talks,” Bishop Cantu wrote. “This avenue, unlike most others, offers the Korean Peninsula a future free from military conflicts or crises, which could simultaneously threaten entire nations and millions of lives in the region.”

A former Vatican diplomat supported such talks.

In an interview with Vatican Radio Aug. 9, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, former Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said that “instead of building walls and creating dissidence or admitting the possibility of recourse to violence,” both countries must have a constructive approach that benefits the people.

A former member of the U.N. Panel of Experts tasked with monitoring and implementing North Korea sanctions also called for calm and a negotiated solution to the differences between the two countries.

George A. Lopez, chair emeritus of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, told Catholic News Service Aug. 10 the interests of both countries can be addressed at the negotiating table.

“We need somebody to talk about what are the underlying security needs of both North Korea and the United States and is there a forum to talk about that,” Lopez said. “If the U.S. issued a simple pledge that we seek no first use against North Koreans, we seek some way to bargain this out, you’d get some response to that.”

Asian nations want stability rather than uncertainty and that will require that talks get underway to assure the peaceful co-existence of both countries, Lopez said. “So how do we get there?” he asked.

Bishop Cantu’s letter reminded Tillerson that “this crisis reminds us that nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction do not ensure security or peace. Instead, they exacerbate tensions and produce and arms races as countries acquire more weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to intimidate or threaten other nations.”

The bishop also cited a call in July by agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals.

A joint declaration released by the USCCB and the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions called upon the U.S. and European nations to work with other nations to “map out a credible, verifiable and enforceable strategy for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Bishop Cantu and Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, conference president, signed the statement.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, the Catholic peace organization, said the organization was praying that both nations would step away from potential confrontation. She said Aug. 9 Pax Christi expected to release a statement on the situation within days.

 

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Korean archbishop backs South Korea’s peace initiative

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SEOUL, South Korea — The president of the Korean bishops’ conference has welcomed President Moon Jae-in’s peace initiative, saying it matches the church’s views on how peace can be achieved on the peninsula.

A Chinese tourist looks over a barbed-wire fence near the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, in this 2015 file photo. (CNS photo/Kim Hong-Ji, Reuters)

A Chinese tourist looks over a barbed-wire fence near the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, in this 2015 file photo. (CNS photo/Kim Hong-Ji, Reuters)

“I deeply agree with President Moon’s direction for the future relations of the two Koreas,” said Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju, conference president. His remarks were reported by ucanews.com.

Since taking office, Moon has said South Korea will take the lead in the peaceful coexistence with the North and presented principles aimed toward such a goal.

Moon said his administration is planning for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through guaranteeing North Korea’s safety and the construction of a permanent peace system. There also will be economic and expanded civil exchanges, he said.

Such measures have been given full support by the Korean bishops, ucanews.com reported.

“First, we need a peace accord with support from surrounding countries, and we should resume inter-Korean exchanges such as civil exchanges, the operation of Kaesong industrial complex and tourism to Mt. Keumkang,” both of which are in North Korea, said Archbishop Kim.

The North and the South have been divided since Korea’s liberation from the Japanese at the end of World War II. The 1950-53 Korean War made the governments bitter enemies.

In recent months, tensions have been high over North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile development.

In June, the Korean bishops’ Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People held a symposium and stressed that a peace accord would help usher in better relations with the North.

“The local church has actively participated in the exchanges between (the two nations), such as sending medicines and supporting farming development in North Korea, and it will keep doing it,” said Archbishop Kim.

Father Timothy Lee Eun-hyeong, secretary of the bishops’ committee, said, “President Moon’s direction is the same as ours.”

However, Father Lee said it would not be easy.

“The way to a peaceful Korea will not be smooth with the North’s missile development and ever-changing international affairs,” Father Lee said.

“Just as the church in Germany took an important role in the reunification of East and West Germany, the Korean church will raise our voice for the peaceful co-existence of two Koreas,” Father Lee added.

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