The success of peace and reconciliation initiatives in the Korean peninsula is linked with justice issues such as the right to free association and access to food and education, a senior church leader told a recent global gathering of peace advocates and academics in Seoul.

“Providing charity alleviates some of the symptoms but we need much more than that. We need a clear commitment to justice for all,” Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), said in a keynote speech delivered on Nov. 3.

Nyomi was addressing more than 100 participants from 51 countries who are in Korea for a four-day seminar exploring the theme “Building Communities of Peace.”

The Oct. 31-Nov. 4 event was the third in a series of seminars on peace and reconciliation hosted by Youngnak Presbyterian Church to honor its founding pastor, Kyung-Chik Han.

Originally from North Korea, Han dedicated his career to seeking reconciliation in the divided country. The Religious Studies Section at York St. John University in Great Britain co-sponsored  the event that marked the tenth anniversary of Han’s death.

Participants in the seminar include representatives from South Africa, Croatia, Burundi and Sri Lanka.

In his presentation, Nyomi paid tribute to the efforts of WCRC member churches in Korea for their commitment to reconciliation between North and South Korea.

“There is a need to strengthen the contacts between the church in North Korea and the church in South Korea,” Nyomi said in speaking of his dreams for the region. 

“Efforts at annual prayer meetings ... and the development of common prayer give us a glimmer of hope.”

Christians represent 29.2 percent of the population in South Korea with 8.6 million Protestants and 5.1 million Catholics. Reliable statistics about North Korean Christians are not readily available. However, the state-controlled Korean Christian Federation, a Protestant organization, has 12,000 members.

The seminar opened with a trip to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates North and South. In a ceremony at the Songak Prayer House overlooking North Korea, international representatives offered prayers accompanied by traditional Korean music.

The gathering of Christians at the border came in the wake of meetings on Oct. 30 where families from North and South Korea met for the first time since the country was separated in the 1950’s. An additional 80,000 people are said to be waiting their chance for a family reunion.

In an Oct. 31 sermon, Nyomi told worshippers at a church in Seoul that they could set a good example for secular society and political authorities by working to overcome divisions among churches. By accepting those who are different from them, Nyomi said, “Christians will be in a strong position to challenge the powers that want to keep Korea divided and speak clearly on the fact that this is one people.”

WCRC was created in June 2010 through a merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). Its 230 member churches representing 80 million Christians are active worldwide in initiatives supporting economic, climate and gender justice, mission, and cooperation among Christians of different traditions.