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Amidst rising tensions between North Korea and the United States, Pope Francis told an interfaith gathering of religious leaders from South Korea that they are called to be “heralds of peace, proclaiming and embodying a nonviolent style, a style of peace, with words clearly different from the narrative of fear, and with gestures opposed to the rhetoric of hatred.”

Pope Francis told religious leaders from South Korea that they are called upon to initiate, promote and accompany processes for the reconciliation of all people.

Representatives from the seven main religious groups on the peninsula are in Rome for an interfaith pilgrimage, amid growing tensions between North Korea and the United States.

President Donald Trump this week said “all options are on the table” after nuclear-armed Pyongyang fired a Hwasong-12 medium range missile over Japan which landed in the Pacific Ocean.

North Korea state media said the missile launch was “the first step of the military operation of the [North Korean military] in the Pacific and a meaningful prelude to containing Guam.” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has repeatedly threatened to attack the U.S. Pacific territory, which has a population of 162,000 people.

Amidst the heated rhetoric, Archbishop Igino Kim Hee-joong, the president of the Korean Bishops’ Conference, said ahead of the audience they would ask the pope to pray for peace and to help the Korean people.

The archbishop told the SIR news agency – which is an arm of the Italian bishops’ conference – the religious leaders were appealing to “seek peace not with weapons or sanctions but through dialogue, negotiation and mutual respect at all costs.”

Francis told the leader the world is looking to them to set an example.

“It looks to us for answers and a shared commitment to various issues: The sacred dignity of the human person, the hunger and poverty which still afflict too many peoples, the rejection of violence, in particular that violence which profanes the name of God and desecrates religion, the corruption that gives rise to injustice, moral decay, and the crisis of the family, of the economy and, not least of all, the crisis of hope,” he said.

 

“We are called to be heralds of peace, proclaiming and embodying a nonviolent style, a style of peace, with words clearly different from the narrative of fear, and with gestures opposed to the rhetoric of hatred,” the pope said.

Although not mentioning the North Korean threat specifically, the pope said interreligious dialogue is directed to the common good and peace, and must always be open and respectful.

“Open, that is to say warm and sincere, carried forward by persons willing to walk together with esteem and honesty,” Francis explained. “Respectful, because mutual respect is at once the condition and the goal of interreligious dialogue: Indeed, it is in respecting the right to life, physical integrity and fundamental freedoms, such as those of conscience, religion, thought and expression, that the foundations are laid for building peace, for which each of us is called to pray and work.”

Francis did speak about the North Korean nuclear crisis during his flight back from Egypt last April.

At the time, the pope called on Trump and other world leaders to reinforce the push for a diplomatic solution to the mounting crisis, and asked the United Nations to “resume its leadership” to help diffuse the situation, saying the UN’s role “has been a bit watered down.”

“I’ve called on [world leaders], and I will call on them, to work towards resolving the problems through the path of diplomacy,” Francis said, asked by journalists about the prospect raised by Trump at the time of a “major conflict.”

In his interview with SIR, Igino Kim said the Catholic Church in Korea is focused on advancing denuclearization and peace-building on the Korean peninsula.

“A nuclear war would have devastating consequences on the whole of humanity,” the archbishop said.

Image: 

Members of the Daegu “Pueri Cantores” choir from South Korea play bells as Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 20, 2015. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)

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