SCORES of Korean young people venerated the World Youth Day cross and icon on an otherwise desolate bridge barricaded with swirls of razor-sharp wire on February 24.
About 100 youth carried the cross as far as they could to the northern end of the bridge in Imjingak, where the razor fence enforces the decades-old division of the Korean peninsula.
There, each of them prayed in turn, with his or her brow against the cross.
The young people were from Uijeongbu diocese, which borders the Demilitarised Zone separating North and South Korea.
The World Youth Day Cross and Icon of the Blessed Mother that they brought were gifts the late Pope John Paul II gave in 1984 to a group of young people to carry across the world in preparation for the first World Youth Day the following year.
Besides praying for national reunification on the bridge, the youth also prayed the Rosary as they brought the 3.8 metre-high cross and the icon in procession around Imjingak, a park 50 km north west of Seoul.
From there people can peer through the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea.
“Nowadays young people don’t have much interest in the tragic national division or in reunification,” Veritas Kim Min-jeong, one of the young pilgrims, told UCA News.
“While praying at the cross, I thought about the role of young people. We as Catholic youth in the diocese need to promote unity and integration of society by spreading the spirit of the cross,” the 26-year-old woman said.
Veronica Lee Eun-me said the experience “was a grace-filled time for me to pray for the country and world peace”.
She also drew an analogy: “With help from my peers, carrying the cross was not hard.
“Likewise, if we gather our prayers together we can fulfil our mission as peace workers in the world.”
Fr Blaise Kim Young-wook, Uijeongbu diocese’s director for youth, added that the “World Youth Day cross and icon’s ‘pilgrimage’ to Imjingak should be a reminder of the pain of national division”.
Co-ordinator of the committee in charge of the cross and icon, Australian Fr Chris Ryan, described it as “a fantastic moment to witness South Korean youth praying for the reunification of the two Koreas”.
“Their prayer at the cross, with (such) warm faith, was beautiful and it inspires me,” he said.
The North and the South have been divided since Korea’s liberation from the Japanese in 1945, at the end of World War II.
The subsequent Korean War heightened animosity between the two Koreas. It ended in an armistice in 1953, not a formal peace treaty, leaving the two countries technically still at war.
The Imjingak “Bridge of Freedom” earned its name after 12,773 South Korean captives returned across it in an exchange of prisoners after the war.
The veneration of the cross at the bridge was one of the many programs being organised leading up to the first Korean Youth Day celebration in August.
The World Youth Day cross and icon arrived on February 18 in Jeju, the southern island of South Korea that is set to host the national youth day celebration. They had travelled through Africa.
The cross and icon left for the Philippines on February 26. From there, they will be brought to East Timor and islands in Oceania before reaching Australia in July.
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