In preparation for the forthcoming worldwide Anglican conference "Towards Peace in Korea" (TOPIK), Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and former Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Robin Eames have held discussions concerning the humanitarian situation in North Korea.
They paid particular attention to recent flooding, and issues of religious freedom that might affect the role the church could play in promoting peace and reconciliation.
Eames will serve as Williams' special envoy and president of the TOPIK conference, which will draw about 150 Anglican leaders, including Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, ecumenical guests and other participants to the Korean Peninsula November 14-20. The conference will begin with a three-day peace trip to Geumgangsan in North Korea.
Originally scheduled for 2006, the conference was postponed amid tensions arising from missile and nuclear tests in North Korea.
Williams said that, despite some volatility in the region, political developments this year meant progress. "We are heartened by the movement made in meetings between the leaders of the North and South towards a permanent peace and the progress achieved through the Six-Party talks," he said, referring to a series of meetings with six participating states: the People's Republic of China; the Republic of Korea (South Korea); the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea); the United States of America; the Russian Federation; and Japan.
Williams noted that Eames' own experience would add greatly to the initiative. "His international reputation in the field of reconciliation and his wide experience and dedicated service to our Anglican Communion fit him well for the role of president of the peace conference," he said.
Eames, who retired in 2006 after 20 years as Ireland's Primate, said he is delighted to serve as Williams' special envoy and president of the TOPIK conference. "I consider it a great privilege to have been asked to represent the Archbishop of Canterbury on an occasion when the strength of the Anglican Communion is once more seen in the sharing of one another's burdens and opportunities."
The Most Rev. Francis Park, Primate of the Anglican Church of Korea (ACK), has been the driving force behind the conference, which will be divided into three parts, each chaired by the Primate of one of the churches that has cooperated in the preparations.
The first part, chaired by Jefferts Schori, is the peace trip to North Korea. The trip will include crossing through the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the world's most heavily fortified border. The Anglican delegation plans to deliver humanitarian aid to a North Korean village. The aid, including medicines and agricultural tools, is the result of a successful "Special Collection" organized across the Anglican Communion by the ACK.
"This gathering promises to produce some lasting changes in the relationships with North Korea," Jefferts Schori said recently. "It seems especially timely given recent progress in talks with the North Korean government."
The visit to North Korea aims to give direct experience of the Korean situation to prepare the participants for the subsequent Peace Forum in Paju (South Korea), which will be chaired by the Most Rev. Nathaniel M. Uematsu, Primate of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Church in Japan). Throughout the forum, experiences of working for reconciliation, forgiveness and healing will be shared and discussed through addresses given by a range of speakers from around the world.
The third element of the conference, the opening ceremonies and worship service, will be chaired by Park. Jefferts Schori will preach at the November 16 opening Eucharist, which is expected to draw more than 400 worshippers.
The TOPIK conference was first envisioned in response to a 2005 resolution from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the Anglican Communion's chief legislative body, which called for peace, reconciliation and reunification between North and South Korea.
Williams said that the conference's work of "supporting and resourcing the painstaking work of building and sustaining peace and promoting reconciliation" would give a practical demonstration of the Anglican commitment to Korean reunification declared by the Anglican Consultative Council and Lambeth Conference.
About 100 South Koreans will be joined by 40 overseas delegates from 20 countries, including Jefferts Schori; Park; Uematsu; Taiwan Bishop David Lai; Archbishop Roger Herft of Perth (Australia); Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe of Kurunagala (Church of Ceylon, Sri Lanka); Bishop Terry Brown of Malaita (Solomon Islands).
Also traveling to Asia as part of an Episcopal Church delegation are: Peter Ng, partnership officer for Asia and the Pacific; the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of Peace and Justice Ministries; the Rev. Dr. Charles K. Robertson, Canon to the Presiding Bishop; and Neva Rae Fox, senior program officer for public affairs.
Further information about TOPIK is available here.
An earlier Episcopal Life Online article about TOPIK is available here.