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Pilgrims accompany Korean women’s struggles with fallout of 70-year war

Pilgrims accompany Korean women’s struggles with fallout of 70-year war

Statue of Peace in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, a symbol of the victims of wartime sexual slavery, known as comfort women. Photo: Grégoire de Fombelle/WCC

16 July 2020

A Women of Faith Pilgrim Team gathered, some in person and others virtually, in South Korea from 13-15 July. They were there to listen and accompany Korean church women as they called for an end to patriarchy – manifested in the Japanese colonization of Korea and establishment of ‘comfort women’ and also in the Korean War — and to the resulting pain and injustice that remains a grim daily reality for many today.

As she welcomed women from across the world, World Council of Churches (WCC) Asia president Rev. Dr Sang Chang thanked people from across the world who gathered online.

“It is always significant to receive women’s groups and talk to women leaders who have all dedicated themselves to the restoration of peace and human rights after the Korean War,” said Chang. “I know it may be difficult but I feel that it will be memorable to gather together to pray and aspire together with all our heart and will for the peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

The group heard from a variety of women's organizations working to promote peace and human rights in the Korean peninsula with the onset of militarisation. They were moved by stories of sexual abuse and slavery, the by-product of militarization and its traumatic impact on survivors and their children, and of the efforts of the women in restoring dignity to those who have been ostracized by the wounds of the past and the present. On 15 July, the group concluded the pilgrimage by watching and supporting a demonstration by the group Justice for the Comfort Women to make clear the deep wounds from sexual slavery under the Japanese military.

Rev. Dr Hyun Ju Bae (Presbyterian Church of Korea), a member of the WCC Central Committee, welcomed the group from the headquarters of the National Council of Churches in Korea in Seoul. “We are here to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War and to share and accompany the Korean women’s struggle to cope with this long-term fallout,” she said, adding that the stories people told were those of “a 70-year duration of this unfinished Korean War.”

With storytelling, songs and prayer together, the women reported that they drew closer together—even online. Together, they prayed for “families divided, not knowing of one another’s joys and pains.” They prayed for “healing not only of the soul but also for new ways of living in harmony with one another.”

WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri noted that this is the first Pilgrim Team Visit to ever occur online. “We had no idea whether it was going to be successful or not,” she said in her closing remarks. “I have been amazed at the amount of preparation that went into helping us understand what it means for Korean women to live in the context of 70 years of Korean war with no peace treaty and where the Korean people yearn for reconciliation and peace between North and South Korea.”

Phiri added: “In the last two days I have come to understand that, for the Korean women, it is not only a desire for a peace treaty but also an end to patriarchy.”

Learn more about WCC's Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace

Global prayer campaign for peace on the Korean Peninsula

WCC member churches in the Republic of Korea