· Vatican City ·

Vatican Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations at the academic symposium commemorating 60 years of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea

The Holy See shares the Korean people’s desire for peace on the peninsula

 The Holy See shares the Korean people’s desire  for peace on the peninsula  ING-047
24 November 2023

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for the kind invitation extended to me by both H.E. Msgr. Mathias Ri Iong-hoon, Bishop of Suwon and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, and the Government Authorities, to take part in this Academic Symposium.

As we are all aware, the present gathering is a significant event as it forms a component of the festivities signifying the six decades of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Korea. Indeed, on September 9, 1963, the Republican Government duly informed H.E. Msgr. Antonio Del Giudice, at that time serving as Apostolic Delegate, of its intention to accredit a Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See, concurrent with the reception of an Apostolic Internuncio in Seoul. On the following 7th of December, the traditional exchange of Notes Verbale occurred. Four days after, on 11th December 1963, this decision was made public, establishing a date formally recognized as the commencement of full diplomatic relations. Over time, a total of eleven Papal Representatives and eighteen Ambassadors have taken turns serving in their respective positions, fostering a strong bilateral connection founded on trust and friendship.

I found it fascinating to learn that the numeral ‘60’ holds great significance in Korean culture. It symbolizes the transition towards a new life cycle and entering a phase of greater completeness. In a similar manner, this number represents in the Holy Scripture the preparation for complete fulfillment. The number ‘60’ in the Bible also symbolically reflects the concept of mutual support and interconnection. The meanings attached to these symbols contribute to shaping the sense of our celebrations: arising from the encounter between the Catholic Church and the Land of Morning Calm, diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Korea have given full acknowledgement to this bond, proving to be advantageous for the overall spiritual growth of the Korean population. We all share the hope that this relationship will continue to progress and lead to an even more fruitful collaboration.

As we celebrate this anniversary, at the same time the research and preservation project that is the subject of this Symposium was also completed. Conceived and supported by both the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea and the Government of the Republic of Korea, this research involved the documents conserved in the Vatican Apostolic Archive, the Apostolic Library and the Pontifical Representation in Seoul. This project provides a further propitious opportunity to highlight the diplomatic, cultural and social heritage constituted by the sixty-year relationship between the Holy See and this country.

To enhance the appreciation of the significance of this shared path, two guidelines proposed by the Holy Father Francis during his visit to Seoul in August 2014 are of great help: “To be guardians of memory and guardians of hope”1.

Guardians of memory

Over the past sixty years, Korea has embarked on a challenging path of progress and transformation. Starting as a fledgling nation emerging from the ravages of war, it has achieved a remarkable metamorphosis into a prosperous and modern country. It has emerged on the international scene as an economic and industrial power, fully engaged in the life of the Family of Nations. It has also garnered recognition as a proactive participant and trustworthy ally within the international community. During that same time frame, the Gospel took root in the country with great vitality, and from being a missionary land, Korea became a place of departure for numerous evangelisers. Accordingly, since 1963, bilateral exchanges with the Holy See have also grown and deepened and numerous memorable events have defined the strengthening of relations: in this regard, I would like to mention the three Apostolic Journeys — the two made by St John Paul ii in 1984 and 1989, and that of Pope Francis in 2014. Then, the visits of Korean Heads of State to the Vatican — that of President Kim Dae-jung in 2000, and those of President Moon Jae-in in 2018 and 2021.

All these events testify to an excellent relationship and a deep sense of mutual harmony. Preserving the memory of these events has the potential to enhance our understanding of the present, unravel its origins, and foster an appreciation for its brightest moments.

Given such a rich history, being guardians of memory leads first of all to gratitude for the many gifts that have resulted from the mutual relationship.

The Holy See has no lack of reasons to be grateful to Korea. First, it is thankful to the local Catholic community: especially for the faith and vitality to which it bears witness, for its growing missionary commitment and ever more authoritative participation in the life of the Universal Church. The Holy See is also profoundly grateful to the Republic of Korea, to its people and to their Governments throughout these sixty years: it is thankful for the freedom and respect granted to the Catholic Church, as well as the productive cooperation towards the common good.

On the other side, there have been, and still are, many expressions of appreciation for the role that the Holy See has played in the process of international affirmation of the Republic of Korea. In this regard, the appointment of Archbishop Patrick James Byrne as Apostolic Visitor in 1947 marked a significant milestone for Korea, because it was the first ever recognition of the country as a sovereign and independent State on a global scale. Archbishop Byrne was taken into custody in 1950, when the North Korean forces invaded Seoul: sad, he succumbed to the hardships and passed away within a few months. His personal tale stands as a testament to his unwavering dedication to protecting freedom, to the extent of sacrificing his own life. Moreover, the help provided by Archbishop Angelo Roncalli — the future Pope John xxiii , who was the Apostolic Nuncio in Paris at that time — to the Korean Delegation during the 3rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, is also worth noting. The skillful diplomacy of the Papal Representative in France played a crucial role in fostering the success of the Korean mission, which resulted in the official recognition of the Republic of Korea by the UN on the 12th of that month.

The main focus of this Symposium is the project for the study and conservation of documents found in the Vatican’s archival collections. This project serves as a great example of the concept of ‘custody of memory’, which the Holy Father strongly encourages us to uphold. The research and restoration work carried out has been truly remarkable. It has also shown us just how crucial archival material is to the culture and practice of the Church. When the term ‘archive’ is mentioned, it brings to mind the Greek word ‘arché’, which signifies the principle, the origin, the point from which one should seek reference. Within every archive — and especially within a grand complex like the Vatican Archives and the Apostolic Library — lies the opportunity to delve into the ongoing stream of collective memory, revealing our origins and the very foundation upon which we stand. Nevertheless, according to a Christian viewpoint, archival evidences hold greater significance than being a mere testimony of the past or an object of worldly curiosity: they can even provide a foundation upon which faith may be firmly based. This is because, going through the course of historical events, the believer can perceive God’s salvific plan gradually coming to fruition. So, the Church views an archive as more than just a repository of texts: rather, it serves as a tool for recounting the life of the community and acknowledging its role as a manifestation of God’s action through history. From the narration of past events, believers derive the idea of their truest mission: to be, in this world, the witnesses of God’s salvation. Therefore, for the Church the unwavering commitment to the common good, with all its factual and historical steps, is deeply rooted in a divine mandate of a theological and spiritual essence.

This same interconnection between a visionary adherence to principles and the practical unfolding of historical events serves as a valuable tool in shedding light on the Holy See’s diplomatic endeavors, their motivations, and significant milestones. To this end, one could argue that papal diplomacy often operates in a theoretical manner, focusing on abstract concepts such as conscience, religious freedom, human dignity, education, and charity. However, these seemingly abstract concerns actually give rise to very tangible challenges. Their resolution holds significant ramifications for not only States themselves but also their harmonious coexistence and future progress. Indeed, one of the most distinguishing aspects of the Holy See’s diplomacy lies in its ability to adopt an overall perspective, guided by Gospel principles and exempt from temporary interests. As Pope Francis has emphasised in his address to the Diplomatic Corps in 2019: “Fidelity to the spiritual mission based on the command that the Lord Jesus gave to the Apostle Peter, ‘Feed my lambs’ (Jn 21:15), impels the Pope — and consequently the Holy See — to show concern for the whole human family and its needs, including those of the material and social order. Nonetheless, the Holy See has no intention of interfering in the life of States; it seeks instead to be an attentive listener, sensitive to issues involving humanity, out of a sincere and humble desire to be at the service of every man and woman”2.

Based on this approach, the Holy See has endeavored, for the past six decades, to provide the Republic of Korea with genuine collaboration and careful consideration. This has involved supporting the profound desires of its people, understanding their concerns, and embracing their hopes and aspirations.

Guardians of hope

However, preserving the memory implies a commitment that goes beyond just remembering or being dutifully grateful. Reflecting on the past would be unproductive if it did not also provide us with the essential tools to approach the future with foresight, tackling its opportunities and difficulties.

The peaceful coexistence of nations is currently being put to the test on multiple fronts. There is no shortage of great challenges emerging both in the region and in the Community of Nations. Many questions are also raised about the future. To name just some examples, the spread of more and more armed clashes and outbreaks of war — notably the widely known ‘Third World War in Pieces’, frequently mentioned by the Holy Father. Additionally, there is the escalation of the arms race and the looming threat of nuclear weapons, as well as the menace of terrorism, the spread of tensions or the growing lack of multilateral concertation. At this crucial juncture in its history, humanity appears to vacillate between fear and hope. On one hand, there is unparalleled scientific advancement, unimaginable technological breakthroughs and, in many places, unprecedented economic prosperity. However, on the other hand, there is apprehension that without authentic social and moral development, these achievements may expose a malevolent side and ultimately harm humankind.

Faced with the concerns arising from the current international context, the Church and the structures of diplomacy share the same task: to be a sign of hope. The hope to which we are called is certainly not a subjective and evanescent feeling, but instead it is as an inspiring criterion for concrete common action. It consists in giving voice again to the idea that conflicts and war are not an ineluctable fate, but they can be overcome through dialogue. For the Holy See, this means a constant commitment aimed at knowing facts and situations, interpreting them in the light of evangelical principles and international norms, without sparing even the smallest steps that can promote agreement and avoid conflicts.

In this regard, some statements by Pope Francis sound more relevant today than ever: “Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation. They can be achieved only on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family of today and tomorrow”3. Pontifical diplomacy, both presently and historically, seeks to serve human coexistence as an instrument and a voice: it continually reinforces the shared desire for stability, security, and peace on all available platforms. The Holy See is strongly dedicated to ensuring a harmonious global coexistence and the much-desired peace, which is not simply a state of power equilibrium but rather stems from and is synonymous with justice.

The world looks to the collaboration between the Church, the States and the institutions of diplomacy to revive hope and discard the suffocating mentality of conflict, thus fostering a renewed spirit of fraternity. Specifically, these institutions are summoned to reassert the notion of unity among nations and the importance of mutual solidarity, as it is the sole catalyst for genuine communal advancement. When examining the motivations that drive individuals and nations, it becomes clear that necessity and interest play a significant role in shaping their paths. These factors naturally determine the choices they make, ultimately influencing their destinies. However, in order to tackle successfully the challenges that lie ahead, it is crucial to approach them also with a sense of solidarity and a commitment to dialogue. In this perspective, in order to address fully the needs and yearnings of our time, the legitimate political and economic considerations should always be coupled with a wider sense of solidarity which, devoting itself to each individual as a brother or sister, holds the key to true success.

In the perspective of being ‘guardians of hope’, I believe that we all share the desire for a thriving cooperation between the Apostolic See and the Republic of Korea. Together, we can confront the daunting challenges that hover over the world — also in the East Asian region — in both the present and the future. In this regard, I would like to emphasize and reaffirm the deep involvement of the Holy See in the desire of the Korean people for peace on the Peninsula. The Holy Father has always supported all efforts aimed at “an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family ”4, hoping that this common endeavour may result in a future of reconciliation, stability and peace. We should not be discouraged from pursuing this goal, the benefits of which extend far beyond the Korean people, encompassing the entire region and the world.

I would like to conclude expressing my gratitude once more for your hospitality and consideration and I extend my best wishes to all for a fruitful Academic Symposium.

1  Cf. Francis, Meeting with the Bishops of Korea Address of Pope Francis, Korean Episcopal Conference (Seoul), 14th August 2014.

2  Francis, Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See for the traditional exchange of new year greetings, 7th January 2019.

3  Francis, Address of the Holy Father on Nuclear Weapons, Nagasaki, 24th November 2019.

4  Francis, Homily for the Holy Mass for peace and reconciliation, Seoul, 18th August 2014.

By Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher