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Catholic bishop presents Buddhist leader Vatican message calling for dialogue

UCANews. May 11, 2007

SEOUL, South Korea -- A Catholic bishop recently visited a Buddhist leader and conveyed to him the Vatican message for Vesak, the upcoming Buddhist festival.

On May 10, Auxiliary Bishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong of Kwangju, paid a courtesy visit to Venerable Jikwan, chief executive of Jogye Order, Korea's largest Buddhist denomination. The bishop is president of the Catholic bishops' Committee for Promoting Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue, so his visit was the first ever by a representative of the Catholics Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK) to the headquarters of the order in Seoul.

This year, South Korea's Buddhists will celebrate Vesak, which marks the birth of Buddha five centuries before Jesus was born, on May 24.

During his historic visit, Bishop Hyginus Kim conveyed the Vatican message Christians and Buddhists: Educating communities to live in harmony and peace, which the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued on April 25. Cardinal Paul Poupard and Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, president and secretary of the council, respectively, signed the document.

Bishop Kim explained the contents to Venerable Jikwan, saying, "The message says that to understand other religions and to cooperate with them, continuous dialogue is needed in order to overcome misunderstandings and prejudices. It also urges us to help each other to work for peace in the world."

Bishop Kim then acknowledged that Buddhism is one of Korea's traditional religions and is rooted firmly in Korean culture. "If Buddhism and Christianity, which represents Western culture, can cooperate with each other, we can contribute to further developments in society and culture," he said.

Bishop Kim then gave Venerable Jikwan a Korean Bible translated in 2005, as well as a wood carving depicting the Last Supper. In return, Venerable Jikwan gave Bishop Kim a miniature bell from a Buddhist temple and a red lotus-shaped lantern. Local Buddhists hang such lanterns in temples and on the streets to celebrate Buddha's birthday.

"The lotus can grow in dirty water and have beautiful flowers," Venerable Jikwan told Bishop Kim. "And unlike other plants that bear fruit after their flowers fade, the lotus can bear fruit just when its flower blossoms. It has 'cause' and 'effect' at the same time. That's the karma of Buddhism."

The Vatican message urges Buddhists and Christians to help communities to dialogue and live together in harmony and peace, and says, "Education for peace is a responsibility which must be borne by all sectors of society."

The message also points out: "Ultimately, the aim of true education is to bring the individual to encounter the ultimate purpose of life. This motivates the person to serve broken humanity. Together may we continue to contribute towards peace and harmony in our society and the world."

Venerable Jiwon, director of the Social Affairs Department of the Jogye order, told UCA News on May 10, "Catholic leaders have released congratulatory messages every year, but this is the first official visit from the Catholic Church." He said he appreciates this Catholic Church effort.

According to the monk, Korean society faces many problems that include conflicts among regions, classes and political interests. "Religions have much work to do together to solve the problems," he said. "We should get together to overcome such matters through dialogue, exchange and cooperation, and the Catholic Church has showed a good example."

"With such exchanges between Buddhism and Catholicism as a model," he added, "religious people need to cooperate and work for reconciliation among religions and contribute to social development."

Father John Bosco Hong Chang-jin, secretary of the bishops' committee, commented to UCA News on May 10: "Considering the Church's (prior) exchanges with Buddhism, this official visit should have been made earlier. Even so, it is another good start for dialogue with Buddhism."

Since 2000, Korean bishops have issued Vesak messages to local Buddhists and some have also paid private visits to Buddhist temples on or around Buddha's birthday. Buddhists in turn have issued Easter and Christmas congratulatory messages to Christians.

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