Seoul - The Catholic Church in South Korea has been trying to raise awareness among ordinary South Koreans about the plight of North Korean exiles (saetomin). To do so, it has launched many initiatives, including a spiritual retreat at the retreat house of the Brothers of Korean Martyrs, the opening of a centre in Gwangju and a campaign against repatriation to the North.
The issue of North Korean exiles in China applying for political asylum in South Korea is complex. Concerned about uncontrolled immigration, South Koreans tend to reserve the bottom of the social ladder to North Korean exiles, who usually lack the necessary skills to fit in South Korean society. For this reason, the Catholic Church has tried to help their integration, also in view of the country's future reunification.
Mgr Peter Lee Ki-heon, bishop of Uijeongbu and president the Reconciliation Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK), recently welcomed 46 exiles, 7 men and 39 women, to a spiritual retreat on Jeju Island. During their four-day stay, they visited the cathedral and met Mgr Peter Kang woo-il, bishop of Jeju and CBCK president.
During a Mass service, Mgr Peter Lee said, "We will offer God this sacrifice for all your family, friends and loved-ones in North Korea. We will also help you have a happy life in South Korea. I, too, was born in Pyongyang and came to South Korea with my family in search of better conditions for a Christian life."
A few days ago, the archdiocese of Gwangju, capital of South Jeolla Province, inaugurated a Saetomin Aid Centre run by a nun, Sister Oh Da-un. The facility will provide North Korean exiles with help to integrate South Korean society.
Similarly, a South Korean association, Handicapped Walking Exercise, kicks off a campaign next Saturday against the repatriation of North Korean defectors to North Korea at Seoul's Olympic Park. Some 2,500 people are expected to participate.