20th Century Korean Sanctuary

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20th Century Korean Sanctuary

As described in Victor Hugo''s novel "Notre Dame de Paris" and the movie "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," cathedrals and churches were inviolable sanctuaries where the power of secular law could not reach during the Western medieval era. When lawbreakers hid themselves inside cathedrals or churches, no one could arrest them unless they came out on their own feet. As the Bible said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest." According to Matthew 28:11, the power of the secular world has no place in the house of God.

There is a part of cathedrals and churches called the "sanctuary." The word sanctuary originally described a sacred or holy place, and is used in English for a place providing refuge or asylum. Sanctuary also means the protection provided by such a place and the immunity afforded to such religeous institutions.

The tradition of sanctuary first originated in the cities of the ancient Hebrew, and Emperor Theodosius of Rome first recognized the practice. Later, Pope Leo I officially approved the tradition in 460, and still later, a similar right of asylum was granted to foreign embassies.

The British parliament prohibited the practice of sanctuary in 1697, and other European countries discontinued the practice by the end of the 18th century.

But this discontinued tradition of Western Christianity jumped time and space and made an appearance in late 20th century Korean society. The Reverend Ham Se-ung, the Reverend Kim Seung-hun and then-opposition leader Kim Dae-jung released a statement to save our country in the name of democracy in 1976 at Myongdong Cathedral. Since then, the place became transformed into a mecca of the democratization movement. Including the famous "Grand Peace March" for democracy in June 1987, many democratization demonstrations have been held at Myongdong Cathedral. Because of the symbolic meaning of the cathedral, the police never carried out any indiscriminate intrusions, although the unwritten law was finally broken when the police entered the cathedral in 1995 to control a labor strike.

After the democratization movement ended, many Christians deplored the fact that Myongdong Cathedral had been turned into a place where special interest groups hold strikes to campaign for their own benefit. The authorities at the cathedral reportedly requested the police to contain any strikes and demonstration held without permission from the cathedral because the latest Korea Telecom labor union strike has again left a deep scar on the sacred place. It was also reported that the police accepted the request. Although it seems to be the correct decision, I still feel something missing deep inside my heart.


by Yoo Jae-sik

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