Anglican leaders from around the world gathered Wednesday to begin a weeklong peace initiative aimed at helping to reconcile the Korean Peninsula.
More than 150 leaders are joining the Nov. 14-20 conference in South Korea for TOPIK (Towards Peace in Korea), which includes a trip to the North.
The conference begins with a three-day peace trip to Geumgangsan in North Korea, where delegates will meet workers of the Hyundai Asan Company and hear about its development programs and economic support for projects in North Korea, including flood-relief aid.
Following the trip, delegates will convene in Paju, near Seoul, South Korea for a four-day forum that will introduce and summarize Korean experiences of war and forgiveness, conflict and reconciliation, and explore ways to contribute to establishing a permanent peace in Northeast Asia.
Paju, although close to Seoul, is also near the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which divides the peninsula in two.
"This gathering promises to produce some lasting changes in the relationships with North Korea," said presiding U.S. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in a statement. Jefferts Schori will preach at the Nov. 16 opening Eucharist.
"It seems especially timely given recent progress in talks with the North Korean government," she added.
North and South Korean leaders met for a historic meeting last month where they agreed to work towards greater peace and economic cooperation. On Wednesday, the prime ministers from the two Koreas met for the first time in 15 years to discuss a massive aid package and how to rebuild North Korea's infrastructure.
"Although an armistice agreement ending hostilities was signed in 1953, no peace treaty has yet been signed to end the Korean War. It is only in this last year that the railway lines between North and South Korea have been rejoined, even if only for a trial run," a news release announcing the TOPIK conference reported.
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.
Organizers hope the conference will support and encourage others working for peace in areas of conflict. The Anglican Church of Korea wishes to begin a longer-term program of aid to the North, continuing beyond the end of the conference.
"The conference aims to further develop the mutual understanding necessary for successful peacemaking efforts and the church's role in them," Archbishop Dr. Rowan Williams, who spiritually leads the worldwide Anglican Communion, said in a letter of commendation.
About 100 South Koreans will be joined by 40 overseas delegates from 20 countries, including Jefferts Schori; Japan Primate Nathaniel Makoto 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); and Archbishop Francis Kyung Jo Park (Anglican Church of Korea).
Peter Ng, partnership officer for Asia and the Pacific, and the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of Peace and Justice Ministries, will travel to Asia as part of an Episcopal Church delegation.
"The joint participation of Japanese and American representatives in a place of former warfare and occupation may provide opportunities for apology, forgiveness and the beginnings of reconciliation," said Jefferts Schori.