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Archbishop invites young North Koreans to WYD 2027

The train to Seoul

 The train to Seoul  ING-048
01 December 2023

The dream is to see them get off the train from Pyongyang; to see young North Koreans, smiling and excited, embrace their peers from Seoul gathered at Dorasan Station along the border of the demilitarized zone that separates South Korea from North Korea. Today, that railway station is shut down, empty, unused. With four years to go until World Youth Day Seoul 2027, the Catholic Church in Korea will do whatever it can to reopen channels of dialogue so that young North Koreans can accept Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick’s invitation.

The Archbishop of Seoul recently spoke at the eighth Korean Peninsula Peace-Sharing Forum organized by the diocesan Reconciliation Committee. The event coincided with the 70th anniversary of the armistice agreement that, in 1953, put an end to three years of war between the two Koreas. Though that provisional agreement is technically still in force, it has never been transformed into a real peace treaty. The Archbishop stressed the need to “overcome the conflicts of the past and move toward a shared future of coexistence and prosperity”, and he affirmed the Catholic Church’s commitment “as a mediator and promoter of reconciliation”. Explaining that young people are the starting point for building bridges for peace, he stated his intention to invite a delegation of young North Koreans to World Youth Day 2027. The invitation will be sent to the government of North Korea through the appropriate channels, as an attempt to rekindle dialogue and relationship.

The Catholic community in Korea evokes the events of 20 years ago, when President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea inaugurated the Sunshine Policy, warming up half a century of cold relations with the North, and launching a project for an inter-Korean railway. In that climate of collaboration, the modern station of Dorasan was built, 56 kilometres from Seoul and only 600 meters from the demilitarized zone. South Korean workers would take the trains to the nearby Kaesong Industrial Complex across the border, where they would work alongside some 54,000 North Koreans. Working together helped them recognize each other as brothers and sisters and overcome prejudice. The Kaesong Complex was shut down in 2016, and the dream of a railway connecting the two Koreas was put on hold. The hope is that conversation between the governments of South and North Korea will resume, and that the railway and station will be put into use again.

For now, the train station remains “a monument to hope”, because in 2027, it could be the destination of young people from Pyongyang.