Berlin to Seoul peace train vehicle to broker Korea peace treaty

(Photo: Reuters / Jung Yeon-Je/Pool)Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) speaks to South Korea's President-elect Park Geun-hye during their meeting in Seoul Jan. 29, 2013.

When Germans demolished the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the iron curtain separating Soviet sphere countries from the world was rusting rapidly, apartheid was crumbling.

But North and South Korea remained divided.

East and western Germany are now united. The Soviet Union no longer exists and after the end of apartheid South Africa has a democratically elected government.

The People's Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south, have stayed apart since their civil war. A peace treaty was never signed, only an armistice in July 1953.

But the Seoul-based National Council of Churches in Korea is striving to help finesse a peace treaty this year using a transcontinental train journey that starts nine months today.

The Korean War pitted the UN-backed U.S.-led southern forces against those from the north supported by China and the Soviet Union and involved more than 2 million troops on both sides for three year.

The NCCK, which consists of Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and the Roman Catholic Church in South Korea, both favor peaceful unification of the divided Koreas.

Korean churches have pulled together the peace train that will travel from Berlin on Oct. 6 through Moscow and Beijing to Busan, South Korea, where Christianity is the largest religion.

The train will arrive in time for the World Council of Churches' global assembly, held every seven years, and that begins late October in Busan.

Those behind Peace Train say it stresses the importance of achieving peace on the Korean peninsula and cooperates with churches of countries that participated in the division of the Korean peninsula in 1953.

Those who can stump up $3,333 can take the journey, but depending on what passports they hold, they will also have to pay for visas.

"Peace Train is a peace journey seeking the Korean peninsula's peaceful reunification and transformation of the political situation between South and North Korea," say the organizers on their website.

"'What Does the Lord Require of You?' was the question raised," by NCCK general secretary Kim Young Ju at a service, "held jointly by the Catholic Church, Orthodox Church and Protestant member churches of NCCK, on Jan. 18, in the Catholic Church Daegu."

In 2013 there is not only the 10th WCC General Assembly in Busan; it is also the 60th anniversary of the armistice agreement of the Korean War, marking 60 years of division between North and South Korea.

A team of 10 South Korean Christian leaders intend to carry out a short adaptation of the proposed 16-day trip on May 28 when they travel from Geneva to Beijing.

The main Peace Train will begin with a candlelight service for peace in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate that was next to the Berlin Wall and inaccessible to most people the Cold War.

The first stage of the journey from starting from Berlin to Moscow will entail 26 hours of train travel.

The train will draw attention to the need for peace and reunification in the Korean peninsula, the churches said, and North Korea also will be on the route, depending inter-State cooperation. The train will carry church and civil society representatives.

"Peace Together 2013, a committee of the National Council of Churches of Korea is working with the governments on the plan," Chae Hye-won, director of the Committee of Reconciliation and Reunification of the NCCK had said in May 2012.

The NCCK reported then it was looking to work with the governments of North and South Korea to prepare a peace treaty to be signed in this historical year.

The WCC assembly is scheduled for Oct. 30 to Nov. 8. The assembly's program will focus on plans for interchurch initiatives on peace, justice and environmental protection in the seven-year period leading to the next assembly.

A Christian South Korean non-governmental organization, "Rail for Hope," has offered the North Korean government help in upgrading its rail transport system as part of a plan to support the isolated country.

If the churches can broker a peace treaty it would be a symbolic but important step in the peace process, but not all South Korea's churches support the church council initiatives with the north.

Since 1996, South Korea's NCCK and the Korea Christian Federation in the north have also worked together each year to create joint prayers in a process initiated by WCC.

A prayer issued for Easter 2012 was prepared at a meeting in China of Korean church representatives for both north and south.

Twenty-nine per cent of South Korea's 47 million people are thought to be Christians, while 23 per cent are Buddhists. Many do not belong to any stated religion. No accurate figures exist for Christians in North Korea, but there probably considerably less than 30,000.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has reported that the Catholic Church in the North Korean capital Pyongyang opened in 1988, after more than 1,500 churches were destroyed while Kim Il Sung ruled the country between 1948 and 1994.

Peace Train is a real train travelling many miles and many days to bring people from Berlin, Germany to Busan, South Korea, which will be witnessing for the peace and reunification of Korea.

North Korea continued to be the worst country in the world in which to be a Christian in 2012, marking its 11th straight year in that position, a new World Watch List released by Open Doors USA reported in January.

North Korea is a closed society of 24 million people in the third generation of a Kim dynasty under supreme leader Kim Jong-un. South Korea's president elect Park Geun-hye is the first woman to rule the country. Her father Park Chung-hee, was also South Korea's president between 1963 and 1979 after seizing power due to a military coup.

Some church leaders believe Park will be less likely to strike a conciliatory note in dealing with North Korea than more recent South Korean leaders.

Korea was occupied by its neighbor Japan from 1905 to 1945, leaving a bitter legacy for many from both north and south.

Tensions remain high in north Asia due to uncertainties over North Korea's nuclear capabilities.

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