[Viewpoint]A prayer for the nation

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[Viewpoint]A prayer for the nation

‘Religion is candlelight inside a lantern made of different colored paper. People see the lantern in the color of their choice, but the candle inside the lantern is always the same.” These are the words of Muhamed Naguib Youssef, the first president of the Republic of Egypt in 1952.

Although the candle inside the lantern gives constant light, there is conflict between love and mercy in this world.

I wonder what Buddha and Jesus would think of the confrontation between the nation’s Buddhists and the Blue House?

President Kim Young-sam was the first president of Korea who was an elder in a Protestant church.

During the 1987 presidential election, he stopped campaigning on Sundays because it was the Christian day of rest. Many Buddhists shunned Kim and he lost non-Christian votes. It was a lesson that cut deep into his heart.

Five years later during the 1992 presidential election, he invited high-ranking Buddhist monks to a meal and said, “If my religion is important, other people’s religion is important, too.”

President Kim, a Protestant church elder, knew that he had to be aware of Buddhist opinion.

There is a Buddha statue in the Blue House compound. It stands on a hill that is on the path to Mount Bugak from the presidential residence.

It was originally in the garden of a wealthy man’s house in Gyeongju. The man donated the statue to the Japanese governor’s residence because the colonial governor at the time, Masadake Terauchi, was fond of Buddha statues.

Right after Kim Young-sam was inaugurated as president, it was rumored that this statue was either damaged or had disappeared. President Kim visited the statue with newspaper and television journalists to prove it wasn’t true.

President Kim used to invite a pastor to hold a family service in the dining hall of the presidential residence every Sunday morning.

At first, he invited the pastor of Choonghyun Church in Gangnam, where he was an elder, but the reaction of people other than those belonging to that church was not favorable.

So Kim had to invite other preachers, too.

He was a Presbyterian, but he transcended barriers of denomination and geography. He invited pastors from all over the country, including Gwangju, North Jeolla Province and Jeju Island, and he even invited those who were not well known.

A close friend of President Kim who attended the services said, “I could hear diverse voices from around the country at the service.”

However, it was not easy to avoid criticism from Buddhists throughout his term of office.

The rumor that the Buddha statue at the Blue House has disappeared surfaced sporadically.

In spring of 1995, Cheongbulhoe, a Buddhist society of Blue House officials, was established for the first time.

Cheongbulhoe invited around 100 Buddhist leaders to worship by the Buddha statue in the Blue House compound, chanting Buddhist mantra and striking wooden gongs.

Ten years have passed and a president who is a Protestant church elder has been inaugurated again.

President Lee Myung-bak gives Buddhists as many reasons to worry as President Kim Young-sam did when he stopped campaigning on Sundays.

In May 2004, President Lee said, “I dedicate the capital, Seoul, to God.” He said, “Restoration of Cheonggye Stream is a silent prayer said on one’s knees.”

During the presidential election last year, he said, “The results of the presidential election will be decided by God.”

Among the incidents that the Buddhists point to as religiously biased acts, there are not many in which President Lee is directly involved. They are things that took place in different areas of the government, without any connection with the president.

However, since there was a “controversy over Lee’s religion” even before his inauguration, the president should have paid special attention to Buddhists’ sensitivities.

President Lee used to say to his close friends, “The reason why I did not become a crook or a socialist, even though I was brought up in a makeshift hut in Pohang and a shanty in Itaewon, was because of my mother’s prayers.”

His mother was a country woman who did not even graduate from elementary school. The president recalled, “At 4 a.m., before going out to the market, my mother woke me and my brother and we prayed. My mother’s prayers were unique.

“She prayed for the safety of the country and society, and then for the well-being of our relatives. Then she prayed for the happiness of our neighbors, and prayed for her sons last.”

The first prayer of a mother who sold street snacks for a living was not for her sons, Sang-deuk and Myung-bak. She prayed for the country and society.

The personal religion of Lee Myung-bak is Christianity, but the nation’s well-being should be the president’s public religion.

If the president speaks to God sitting at his desk in the early morning hours and overcomes all religious barriers during the day, I think he will be free from religious conflict.

If the president behaves that way, religious leaders will no longer be able to make unreasonable requests, such as being given the right to harbor fugitives from justice.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin
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