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Capitol Hill Forum Advances Multi-Faith Engagement and Track Two 'Citizen Diplomacy' on the Korean Peninsula

Congressman Joe Wilson
CaptionForum co-chair Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) welcomes delegates to the Capitol Hill event. ALL PHOTOS PETER HOLDEN PHOTOGRAPHY

Noting the adage that “timing is everything” moderator Joe Grieboski, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, welcomed panelists and guests to a Washington forum addressing humanitarian aid and Track Two “citizen diplomacy” on the Korean peninsula, just one day after the announcement of an agreement with the United States in which North Korea will suspend its nuclear weapons program, uranium enrichment, and missile launches while the U.S. will deliver food aid to the communist state.

The forum, “Multi-Faith Engagement and Track Two Diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula,” was held at the U.S. Capitol on March 1, 2012 and featured key leaders of the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Unification and National Assembly, as well as faith leaders engaged in humanitarian assistance to North Korean people.

The Capitol Hill forum was sponsored by the Global Peace Festival Foundation, Institute for Religion and Public Policy, and Buddhist Broadcasting System Korea.

Universal principles of faith
Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (top left) emphasizes universal principles of faiths as a basis for humanitarian efforts; top right: Moderator Joe Grieboski, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy; below: U.S. House of Representative chaplain Pat Conroy.

Congressmen Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) and Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa),co-chairs of the forum, thanked the panelists and organizers for drawing attention to the human dimension of the post-war division of Korea and emphasized the important role of faith-based and nongovernmental initiatives to advance peace.

Dr. Robert A. Schuller, a noted Christian leader and chairman of the Coalition for American Renewal, told the forum that “the compassion taught in all faith creeds can be expressed in unique and powerful ways through multi-faith partnerships.”

Two Korean faith leaders from different traditions movingly described their efforts to provide essential food supplies to the North Korean people. Venerable Young Dam, Chairman of the Buddhist Broadcasting System Korea and Director of General Affairs of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, described the most vulnerable segments of the North Korean population as  “the ‘forsaken people’ who are not protected by the government and are placed within the ‘dead zone’ of the humanitarian support projects. That is why a project that supports the minorities of North Korea was launched in April 2010 by the private North Korea support group known as the Korean Sharing Movement.  in which this humble monk is the standing president.”

Forum delegate Rev. George Rhee, a minister in the Assemblies of God Church in the United Kingdom and the founder Love North Korean Children, was moved by the plight of the poor and homeless children on a visit in 2001. His wrenching testimony to the privations of orphaned North Korean children with no food, no home, and no hope, shocked many listeners.

Universal principles of faith
Faith leaders Venerable Young Dam top left) and Rev. George Rhee (right) brief the forum on their efforts to provide essentials to the North Korean people. Below: Hon. Nakyun Shin, a member of Korea’s National Assembly addresses the forum.

Rev. Rhee opened the first bakery in Rason, North Korea, in 2006 and currently operates four bakeries in different cities with support from the North Korean government, feeding some 16,000 children daily.  Rhee also recognized the support of Global Peace Festival Foundation, which is fully sponsoring one bakery in Sariwon, North Korea, with plans for future collaboration to provide humanitarian assistance as well as build human networks across the Koreas.

Hon. Nakyun Shin, a member of the National Assembly of Korea and member of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, emphasized the importance of civil society exchanges in building trust and improving relations between the North and South. “Problems cannot be solved with opposition and conflict,” she said.” In the reality of separation with different systems and ideologies, trust is more important than anything to achieve peace in the Korean Peninsula and reunification of South and North.

“We wish that the Global Peace Festival Foundation will continue to expand the religious exchange and cooperation, and visits to North Korea for the difficult situation of our North Korean comrades, she added.”

The Korean delegation scheduled briefings at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Institute for Peace and the U.S. State Department on March 2.