07 December 2023, The Tablet

Welcome to inspire

Welcome to inspire

Seoul will host the next World Youth Day, in 2027, and its archbishop wants North Koreans to be there. Archbishop Peter Soon-Taick Chung’s idea seems hard to fathom – why would Kim Jong Un’s cowardly regime let its young people cross the demilitarised zone to see the Pope? North Korea remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. What kind of world does the archbishop think this is?

The unthinkable wars in Ukraine, Sudan and the Holy Land seem intractable enough. The 70-year armistice on the Korean peninsula – never formally ending the Korean War – is of a different order of magnitude, circumstances we have never known, and cannot imagine, to be otherwise. Until the world has thought its way to a comprehensive solution, gestures of reconciliation will always look anomalous, even futile.

But one day, we believe, peace will break out. Not with the signature of an exhaustive treaty or a handshake between dignitaries, but with a simple interaction between human beings recognising one another’s humanity. The photogenic cliché of old foes embracing across the barbed wire is part of that, but the reality goes further, into the really human experience of visiting each other’s shops and travelling on the same buses, of annoying each other and that being all right.

As this edition’s stories from Lisbon reveal, an invitation to World Youth Day is not a simple irenic prospect. If the North Koreans do make it in 2027, they will probably sleep uncomfortably and spend a lot of time in queues. That’s all part of the logic of peace too. Faced with an apparently insurmountable problem, Archbishop Soon-Taick Chung can only make the invitation and pray that this is the flashpoint of reconciliation. Even if it is not, one day, God willing, the young North Koreans of today will be grateful to have been asked.

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