Category Archives: Asia

HUMAN RIGHTS: PCUSA signs onto letter supporting activists in Sri Lanka

Pax Christi USA has signed onto a letter being circulated by the U.S. province of the Missionary Oblates to the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Michele Sison.

The letter shares deep concerns about several recent arrests in Sri Lanka of human rights defenders under the government’s Protection of Terrorism Act (PTA), including an Oblate priest, Fr. Praveen Mahesan, OMI. He and Ruki Fernando, an internationally respected human rights defender, were arrested on Saturday night while looking into the arrest two days before of a vocal leader of families of the disappeared, Ms. Jeyakumari. She has since been moved to a notorious prison in the south of Sri Lanka, where torture is common. She was initially detailed with her 13 year old daughter, and Fr. Praveen and Ruki were trying to insure the safety of the daughter when the military arrested them. Fr. Praveen and Ruki have been released – for now – after an international outcry, but they have been told not to speak to the media, and their passports have been taken.

The letter calls for the unconditional release of Ms. Jeyakumari and restoration of full freedom of movement for Fr. Praveen and Ruki Fernando.

You can click here for more information.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the petition asking the U.S. to cancel new military base in Okinawa

Pax Christi USA has signed onto this statement condemning the building of a new Marine base in Okinawa, Japan.

Leading scholars, peace advocates and artists from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia today released the attached statement opposing the construction of the new U.S. Marine base at Henoko, Okinawa, planned by the US and Japanese governments as a replacement facility of Futenma airbase located in the middle of Ginowan City. Their statement urges “support for the people of Okinawa in their struggle for peace, dignity, human rights, and protection of the environment.”

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Initial signers of the statement include linguist Noam Chomsky, academy award winning film makers Oliver Stone and Michael Moore, Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire, historian John Dower, former U.S. military officer and diplomat Ann Wright, and United Nations Special Rapporteur for Palestine Richard Falk. (See complete list of initial signers on statement. Additional names are being added.)

Speaking for the signers, Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee, who has worked with Okinawan base opponents and initiated the 1996  “Statement of Outrage and Remorse” following the kidnapping and rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl by U.S. servicemen, said the statement  is intended to “ rally international support for Okinawans in their inspiring and essential nonviolent campaign to end seventy years of military colonization, to defend their dignity and human rights, and to ensure peace and protect their environment.”…

Read the entire statement and press release here.

Sign the petition by clicking here.

REFLECTION: Ambassador Kennedy and the dolphins

Nick Meleby Nick Mele
Pax Christi USA National Council member

When the new U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, tweeted her concern about Japan’s drive hunting of dolphins, that was a good thing. Sure, she upset the Japanese government and the fisher folk who earn money from the trade in dolphin meat but most Americans, particularly those who have seen the documentary film about this annual hunt, sympathize more with the dolphins. Her concern for the humane treatment of animals is praiseworthy, but it is only a first step.

It would be better for Ambassador Kennedy to expand her concern for marine life to the waters of Henoko, Okinawa, where the U.S. military plans to destroy several square kilometers of precious marine habitat important to soft corals and dugong, an endangered mammal similar to our manatees, in order to construct a Marine Air Base to replace the controversial Futenma Base, which the Clinton Administration committed to moving or closing in 1996. Eighteen years later, the best the U.S. can do to honor that pledge is to destroy sea life in another part of Okinawa and disrupt an existing community that has already lived next to a U.S. Munitions Depot since 1959. The new base will be larger than the Futenma air field it will replace, and much larger than the munitions depot, so it is hard to see the change as anything other than part of the U.S. military “pivot” to Asia, a move that the present government of Japan wholeheartedly supports…

Click here to read the rest of this article.

REFLECTION: Daily resistance to the forces of militarism on Jeju Island

BichselBillByCurtCharles 2by Rev. Bill Bichsel, S.J.

Recently I visited Jeju Island of South Korea and had my deepest experience of a faith community in daily resistance to the forces of militarism.  I had never heard of Jeju Island and that the U.S. was building a naval base there against the wishes of the people of the island especially the people of Gangyeong Village where the base is being constructed.  Much less had I heard that priests and nuns along with villagers were in daily resistance and that the Bishop of Jeju was an inspiration and motivator of the resistance.

This information came about two years ago from Denis Apel of the Pacific Life Community and Bruce Gagnon  of the Coalition Against Nuclear Power and Weapons who were in Seoul doing a documentary showing priests in albs and stowels and nuns, in habit, along with villagers blocking the gates to the construction site.  This scene made me want to join in with them.  Thoughts of going there kept penetrating my heart and head, but there was no ability to go at that time.  Then a check came in the mail directing me to use the money for any work of peace that I felt a need for.  The first thing I thought of was that this would cover the cost of a round trip ticket to Jeju. That was the sign.

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Rev. Gilberto Perez, a Buddhist Monk of the Nippozan Myohoji Order was also moved by the documentary to support the people of Jeju. Together we took off for Jeju Island on September 23rd and landed in Tokyo on the first step of our journey and then left for Seoul.

We were met in Seoul be a young Jesuit scholastic and he drove us to the Jesuit residence for scholastics doing their philosophy studies.  We were warmly received by them and the priests.  I learned how to leave my shoes outside and at times I would forget, but got a gentle reminder.

“The priests and scholastics mixed so well that there were no hierarchical strains. They wanted to know all about us and were particularly interested in Gilberto’s Buddhism and how he lived out.

The next morning our scholastic driver drove us to the airport to take off for Jeju Island.  It was a short land trip and 60 miles over the south sea. Once landed we were met by Fr. Huh, from the chancery office and Fr. Kim Seong-hwan, S.J. our host at Jeju. Fr. Huh came as a representative and greeter from the Bishop who let us know that the he wanted us to visit him during our visit.  They took us to lunch, though I was still full from breakfast.  After lunch, Fr. Kim drove us to the guest house where we would be staying and gave us an idea of what the next day would be like. He explained that the guest house was rented by the Korean Jesuit Province for visitors coming to work with the resistors.  Across the street was a much larger guest house and a hostel that housed visitors coming to learn about or join the resistance. This facility was rented by the Diocese of Jeju. The facility had rooms with computers and an office of the Mayor of Gangyeong Village.

After we were settled Fr. Kim took us to his small house where he lives with three other Jesuits. All of them have their apostolate to care and support the villagers and the resistance. Brother Park, S.J. was serving a 10 month sentence in prison for entering the naval yard being constructed along with Dr. Song Kang to assess the environmental damage.  Jesuit Fr. Lee was arrested four times and was presently on trial. Fr. Kim, whose Christian surname is Jos was the first Jesuit to be arrested and had served time in prison. During our time there he was daily blocking the gates to the construction site.  Fr. Kim Seohg-hwan introduced us to Fr. Mun a 78 year old diocesan priest.  He is considered the father of the resistance on Jeju and has for 40 years has been standing against militarism.  He is an inspiration to all and close friend to the Jesuits who follow his lead.

After settling in we got a plan and schedule from Fr. Kim.  The next morning we headed down to the construction site with a young lady from Berkely named Iffka, who helped us greatly.  She hopes to initiate a boycott of Samsung when she returns, because it is the prime contractor for the naval base.  The walk to the base, at my speed, took twenty minutes.  Our day started at 7 am at the gate to the base.  A ceremony of 100 deep bows led by a Gangyeong village woman,  Jean darc, began the day. She has been doing this for 1 1/2 years. The bows are accompanied by music and prayer intersessions at each bow. All the participants went to their knees from the deep bows, but I did mine from a chair. It was a very centering and reflective type of prayer. After this there was an option for breakfast in a community kitchen about a quarter of a mile away.  It was open to anyone of need, which was another sign of a faith-filled community.   A small path leading to it was bordered by green-houses and intermittent views of the construction site.

After the bow ceremony Gilberto and I often opted to remain with the resistance group at the main gate. Immediately across the street was the main tent where daily mass was celebrated.  It began at 11:00 am with the nuns, priests and villagers sitting in chairs blockading thegates of the construction site.  The Eucharist would be broadcasted while the police assembled to remove the resisters. They would lift them, in their chairs, to the side of the road.  After the cement trucks and the other big rigs were let into the site and the empty trucks out the resisters would return and take up their blocking positions again. This event took place many times a day. The communal rciting of the rosary followed the Mass.  Sometimes in the afternoon after many removals the words and music and singing began accompanied by a lively Korean dance. It keeps alive the joy and hope of the resistance.

After the activities the two Fr. Kims would take us to different restaurants to experiment with different foods from Kin chi and seaweed to shredded jelly fish with cucumbers.  I grew to like their food, but failed in mastering the chop sticks.

I was surprised by the size of the island and its population.  There are 500,000 people on that island. Jeju City is the large metropolitan area and Gangyeong village, where the naval base is being built, is about a 45 minute drive from there. The island is tropical, pristine and similar to our Niagara Falls for Korean newly-weds and a top tourist attraction for Koreans.

Agriculture is the main source of income and employment in Jeju.  I was amazed at the immensity of the agricultural production. It’s done in greenhouses and they cover the island producing fruit, vegetables, tangerines and a host of other foods.

All of the islanders are not united in visible opposition to the navy base. There are those profiting from the construction and those who tend to go along with the government and then the silent group.  There are definitely tensions and at time the people from Gangjeong are often criticized by fellow villagers.  However there is a curious statistic in the mix that might speak more tellingly about the opposition to the base.  It comes from the aftermath of a typhoon that hit Jeju last year.  It carried away a good portion of the construction work at the base and found a lot of people rejoicing in that fact. While I was there there was a report of an on-coming typhoon in early October and from what I heard, 90% of the island, including the farmers, who would be the most affected, were praying that it would hit the naval base again.  I heard, after I left, that it did hi the island, but didn’t affect the base at all.

My trip to Jeju Island was the deepest experience I’ve ever had of a faith community.  They worked together in resisting American militarism. It’s not just a David facing Goliath story; it’s the story of a committed village and supporters who feel small and insignificant against a gigantic tidal wave of American militarism.  Yet they continue their resistance and the heart of the resistance is the Eucharist, which Bishop Peter Chasng has encouraged. He is a servant leader who believes and follows Jesus who walks in the market places and the roadways where the poor and the outcasts live. His daily calling to peace and non-violent action to these forces that deprive humanity of life and livelihood has been the foundation of this on-going resistance.   He and Fr. Mun, the 77 year old revered diocesan priest along with the nuns, priests and villagers have brought about this Eucharistic resistance.  I’ve been very touched by this fountain of strength and faithful resistance and do believe that this strength to stop this base is here.  Not only that, but here is the well from which spiritual strength might come to roll back American Militarism in the Pacific.

Never have I been more proud of the Jesuits or affiliated with a Province that is so involved in the works of Social Justice.  Not only have Jesuits been assigned full time to this apostolate, but the entire Province is behind it.

As a result of my visit to Jeju, I hope to support the on-going resistance by getting the word out and hope to follow through becoming a full-time sign of resistance through the Eucharist.  I feel that the works of war and the constant actions of U.S. interventions are continuous and without interruption, where as our collective actions for peace and abolishing war are spasmodic, and infrequent.

It seems to me that the power of the resurrection is here in Jeju that can generate full time peace keepers and resisters.  Step out in faith and visit Jeju!

ASIA: Stop war games, start peace talks – PCUSA signs onto statement

Pax Christi USA calls upon the U.S. and South Korean governments to stop the costly and provocative war games and take proactive steps to de-escalate the current tensions of the Korean peninsula. Pax Christi USA has signed onto the following statement from the Working Group for Peace and Justice in Asia and the Pacific.

Stop War Games, Start Peace Talks: Statement Opposing U.S.-South Korea Joint Military Exercises Key Resolve Foal Eagle

The Korean War, known in the United States as “The Forgotten War,” has never ended.  Every year, the United States stages a series of massive joint war games with its ally, South Korea (ROK).  These coordinated exercises are both virtual and real.  Among other things, they practice live fire drills and simulate the invasion of North Korea—including first-strike options.

While we – peace, human rights, faith-based, environmental, and Korean solidarity activists – are deeply concerned about North Korea’s third nuclear weapons test, we also oppose the U.S.-ROK joint war games as adding to the dangerous cycle of escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.  North Korea views these war games as an act of provocation and threat of invasion like that which we have witnessed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya and routinely condemns these maneuvers as aimed at “bring[ing] down the DPRK by force” and forcing it to“bolster up the war deterrent physically.”  South Korean activists also decry the role of these war games in the hostile perpetuation of the division of the Korean peninsula and are often persecuted for their protests under South Korea’s draconian National Security Law…

Click here to read the entire statement.

SOUTH KOREA: A common letter sent to the S. Korean president on Jeju Island naval base

The following letter was co-signed by Nick Mele on behalf of Pax Christi USA.

Mr. President:

We take this opportunity to greet you with warm New Year’s wishes in these winter days.

We, the undersigned, are representatives of various faith communities from Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Canada and the United States, who undertook a visit to Kangjeong Village, Jeju Island on December 5-7, 2011 to learn about the construction of a Korean naval base. We are writing to report on our findings.

As people of faith our commitment is to serve and seek Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation.  All of these aspects are deeply compromised at Kangjeong Village by the construction of this base.

Integrity of Creation – Kangjeong Village and its surrounding area is uniquely beautiful—in fact, it is a UNESCO-designated ecological reserve.  It contains endangered and rare life, both on the water front and the sea bed.  The construction of the naval base will disrupt its water source, and the entire ecosystem.  The people of the community have practiced stewardship of the land and sea for many generations as farmers and fishers, and their way of life will be disrupted.

To read the entire letter, click here.

ASIA: Catholics organize in support of Jeju islanders

By Huh Ho-joon, Jeju Correspondent

“As the general election draws closer, you get the feeling that the government is trying to make the building of the Jeju naval base into something set in stone before it can be affected by the election result. It‘s really sad and disappointing to see it being pushed so one-sidedly, without paying any attention to people’s voices.”

Peter Kang Woo-il, bishop in Jeju and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, had words of harsh criticism Thursday for the government’s blasting of the Gureombi Rock coast in Seogwipo’s Gangjeong village the day before.

Speaking with the Hankyoreh at the Jeju diocese, the bishop said, “When the National Assembly cut the Jeju naval base construction budget by 96% late last year, it was voicing the legislature‘s view that there were too many problems with the design and other aspects, and that construction should not be carried out until it had been reexamined.

“I can’t understand why the government is refusing to communicate with the people and making these decisions,” the bishop added. “We’re not living under a dictatorship.”

Click here to read the entire article.