Lee Baek-Man(former Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Vatican) *Former Ambassador Lee Baek-man was a journalist before he became senior presidential secretary for public relations in the Roh Moo-hyun administration; 8 months after Moon Jae-In came into office,he was appointed as ambassador to the Vatican and held that post for 3 years. Pope Francis and Former Ambassador Lee Baek-man ⒸVatican Media -------------------------------------------- *Lee Baek-man presented these remarks on June 16 at the 'Day of Prayer for National Reconciliation and Unity’ symposium which was hosted by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People and Catholic Institute of Northeast Asia Peace, and the East Asia Evangelization Center. Everyone is talking about the danger of COVID-19. It is certainly an unprecedented crisis. The problem is how to overcome this crisis. We can find the answer in history; it is solidarity and sharing. Solidarity and sharing are two sides of the same coin. There is no true sharing without true solidarity and there is no true solidarity without true sharing. It is in solidarity and sharing that I think we must find the role for Catholics in this COVID-19 era. When you think in terms of the reconciliation of the Korean people and peace on the Korean peninsula, you can say that the Vatican and the Korean Catholics have found the right direction. The Vatican and Korean Catholics are now actively pursuing two meaningful projects. One is the movement to share COVID vaccines and the other is the effort to arrange a visit for Pope Francis to North Korea. Pope Francis said in 2020 that “Poor countries must not be excluded from the advantages of vaccination,” and since then the campaign to share vaccines has been embraced by Catholics around the world. As you well know, the COVID-19 vaccine is being monopolized by rich developed countries. To poor countries [in places] such as Africa the vaccine is nothing but pie in the sky. Korean Catholics are known to be the most active participants in the Vatican’s campaign to share vaccines. The spring meeting of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK) included a jubilee celebration of the 200th birthday of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon and preparations for the beatification of Father Thomas Choe Yang-eop. They also decided to actively develop the campaign to share vaccines to poor countries. This campaign by Korean Catholics is progressing smoothly. Believers and priests, companies and organizations are all working together to make a beautiful donation. The Pope sent his blessing to those who are participating in the vaccine sharing campaign. We must take particular interest regarding the donation of vaccines to North Korea. It is expected that charitable organizations affiliated with the Vatican will use donations from Korean Catholics to send vaccines to North Korea. The possibility that the Vatican will play a role to mediate the sharing of vaccines between the Koreas is receiving attention. A visit by Pope Francis to North Korea would not be a simple religious event. It could be the event of the century to rock the diplomatic terrain of the Korean Peninsula. Pope Francis was almost successful to arrange a visit to North Korea following his meeting with President Moon on October 18, 2018, but the conversation was entirely dropped after the failure of former President Trump’s Hanoi summit on Feb. 28, 2019. Pope Francis had said to President Moon, “If Chairman Kim Jong-Un sends an official invitation, I am prepared to visit North Korea,” and actually, he had accepted an invitation to visit the North. After that North Korea had demonstrated a very active posture. Sant’Egidio, an affiliate organization of the Vatican served an intermediary role. At the time, North Korea gave extraordinary attention to the request of Sant’Egidio to open an office in Pyongyang. The Vatican had also nearly completed its preparations for Pope Francis’ visit to North Korea. Pope Francis had even instructed the Vatican team to prepare for the visit with new methods beyond the standard protocols and customs. As the Biden era has started, Pope Francis has renewed efforts to make a visit to North Korea. If the pope’s visit to North Korea is successful, then I expect that the Korean peace process will advance to new levels. It is clear that it would benefit the prevention of war (since war with a land that the pope has personally visited and blessed is unthinkable in Catholic doctrine), and I expect that it will be a decisive opportunity for the opening of the North Korean system. As we can see from the intermediary role that Pope Francis played (in 2015) in the resumption of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, the pope’s visit to North Korea will drive the development of North Korea-US relations. It is also a clear opportunity for religious organizations and NGOs (etc.) to revitalize humanitarian aid to North Korea. The pope’s Latin title “Pontifex” means “bridge-maker.” More even than previous popes, Pope Francis has been a diligent bridge-maker. Currently North Korea is cut off from international society. Pope Francis has a firm will make a bridge between North Korea and international society. This is a point to which we must pay attention during the G20 summit which will be held in Rome this October. The pope is not a member of the G20, but he has many roles to play during the Rome meeting. It is custom for heads of state of the nations which have diplomatic relations with the Vatican to visit when they travel to Italy. President Biden and President Moon will meet Pope Francis. Biden and Moon have in common that both are devout Catholics and both are Liberal Catholics. They are on the same wavelength with Pope Francis. Soon after President Biden’s inauguration (on Feb. 4, 2021) he talked on the phone with President Moon and this commonality was revealed. Pope Francis has a special love for the Korean Peninsula. While I was in office at the embassy to the Vatican, I heard directly, or can verify, these sayings by Pope Francis, “The Korean Peninsula is always in my heart and on my mind” (Feb. 2018); “I am ready to go to North Korea” (Oct. 2020); “It is my dream to hold hands with the leaders of North and South Korea and walk at Panmunjom” (Jan. 2019); “I want to visit Seoul and Pyongyang at the same time” (Oct. 2020). When Pope Francis, who has said these words, meets with President Moon and President Biden, what indeed will he say? This is why I am already looking forward to the Rome G20 summit. Korean Catholic believers, priests, nuns and monks, please pray that Pope Francis’ visit to North Korea can be realized. One could say that Korean Catholics have an ideal opportunity to further the cause of reconciliation and unity during this COVID-19 crisis.