On finding peace - in a park and a prayer - at UN's only war cemetery

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)A monument to the tens of thousands of United Nations troops who died in the Korean War in Busan, South Korea on November 3, 2013.

BUSAN, South Korea - The Korean War came to a halt in the form of an armistice 60 years ago, but the conflict remained unresolved after three years of bloody conflict that left the Koreans divided into two nations to this day.

As the World Council of Churches meets for its 10th General Assembly, in the South Korean city of Busan it does so under a theme of a prayer: "God of Life lead us to justice and peace."

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)At in the entrance to the United Nations Peace Park in Busan, South Korea on November 3, 2013.

In doing so it is gathering together the world's largest variety of churches in one place between October 30 and November 8.

Just a 10 dollar taxi ride from where the meeting is taking place, on the gentle slope of a little valley surrounded by the dynamic bustle of this Asian city is a park dedicated to what that prayer ultimately seeks, peace.

It's the United Nations Peace Park and war cemetery.

On a sultry, autumn Sunday afternoon families have gathered here to breathe in the peace of this park that  contains the U.N. Memorial Cemetery in Korea.

A Catholic nun wanders alongside her good mother, a family picnic takes place under the rustic leaves of a tree and in one corner of the park a young boy gyrates with a hoola-hoop, provided free to anyone who has hips to flex.

It is all so gentle.

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)A Roman Catholic nun and her mother at the United Nations Peace Park in Busan, South Korea on Sunday November 3, 2013.

There is a kind of realization here, between the peaceful activities of the people and the peace that was fought for.


Indeed, just across a row of pine trees, behind the corner for simple play, lie the bodies of some 2,300 young men, from some 13 countries, who were killed in the Korean War of 1950-53.

Many more tens of thousands of the United Nations forces from 21 countries were killed in the conflict along with hundreds of thousands of Koreans from both sides as well as countless thousands of civilians.

According to a United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea brochure, this is "holy ground ...dedicated to the peace and freedom of the world." Not just Korea.

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)An Australian man reflects on the Korean War as he leaves an Australian monument United Nations Peace Park Busan on November 3, 2013.W

It is the world's only UN war cemetery. Flags fly representing the 22 nations that took to the battle field under designated United Nations command to fight the invasion of South Korea by the communist North.

The conflict ended in cease fire. There is still no peace treaty between the two Korea's.

There remains a legacy of some 1.2 million people killed in battle from both sides, about 100,000 orphans and as late as 1991 up to 7.2 million family members were still separated by the border along the 38th parallel.


Some say Korea is the only country that remains officially divided in the world. But among the flags fly those of Greece and Turkey which were involved in a conflict over Cyprus which is also a nation divided into two parts.

On this Sunday, as the day begins to end and light fades, a Korean man stands in still contemplation before a particular grave; hands clasp before him, absorbed in thought.

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)At play in the United Nations Peace Park in Busan, South Korea on November 3, 2013.

A minute later he is gone: his remembrance of some kind of loss taken with him into the evening. Maybe he recalls this pain, daily.

Near the Australian section a plaque records the final resting place and death of one J. H. Bridger, private, number 3/3283.

Later research reveals that John Henry Bridger, 23 from the Melbourne working-class suburb of Kensington enlisted on September 28, 1950. One month and one day later he was dead. Killed in action, far from home.

No doubt each story of each death – from such diverse countries as South Arica, Thailand , Turkey, Canada, Philippines – would tell a tale of similar misfortune and loss.

Walking through this park, where people are asked not to run, ride or smoke but embrace "silence and respect" there are some members of the WCC conference encountering this reflective peace. How does this peace in the face of the repeated cycle of 'wars and rumours of wars' relate to their official gathering and faith?

Perhaps they are aware that the Korean War, which is deeply remembered in places such as this, has but won a "kind of" peace. Still the Korean peninsula is divided; nation and family are still separated; weapons of war still point at each other - even as on a day like this a child can playfully swivel his hoola-hoop around his agile body.

Yes, it is a peace that is better than no peace at all.

It is a kind of peace hard won. It is also a peace that is not yet fulfilled. It is why the world still needs to pray, "God of Life lead us to justice and peace."

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