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Korea: North and South together for rebirth of Buddhist temple

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young, AsiaNews, November 20, 2006

The restoration of Shingye temple, destroyed during the 1950 war, had been foreseen in the joint declaration signed by Seoul and Pyongyang in 2000.

MOUNT GEUMGANG, North Korea -- About 700 religious representatives and government officials from Seoul and Pyongyang held a ceremony together yesterday to celebrate the reopening of a North Korean Buddhist temple that was destroyed in the 1950 war.

Shingye temple is situated on the eastern coast of North Korea near Mount Geumgang. It is a complex of 10 adjoining temples.

Destroyed by American fire in 1951, the temple was reopened after two years of restoration works undertaken by the Jogye Order, South Korea's largest Buddhist group, and the North Korean Buddhist Federation.

"We can hold this ceremony thanks to June 15 joint declaration," said Chung So-jung, the federation chief. "Our hopes for the unification of the two Koreas will now be backed by prayers by Buddhists from the two Koreas."

The declaration, signed in 2000 by the then president of Seoul, Kim Dae-jung and by the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, foresaw a “first joint project” to “restore a common cultural asset since the division of the Korean Peninsula in 1948”.

Founded in 519 A.D. during the Silla Dynasty, Singye Temple is one of the most famous places of worship of Korean Buddhism. In 2004, the Venerable Jejeong was invited by Pyongyang to supervise works. He “could not take care of Buddhists in the North” but would tell many tourists who visited the mountain about the values of the temple.

There is no freedom of worship in North Korea: the Communist regime persecutes all forms of religious practice and the only cult allowed is that of the “dear leader” Kim Jong-il and of his father, the “Eternal President” Kim Il-Sung.

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