[Viwepoint] The pioneers of integrationEach nation has pioneers who have walked up to the front to show the way amid historical turmoil. We live in a free country today because pioneers fought at the front line of an independence movement against Japan’s colonial rule.
The trajectory of 66 years since liberalization and post-war division was laden with struggles and toil. Yet we continue to march ahead to fulfill our common dream of uniting together as one community. We were fortunate to have had three special religious leaders - the Rev. Kang Won-yong, Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, and the Venerable Beopjeong - who guided and inspired us on the meaning and morals of community life in simple words and lifestyle at times of turbulence.
The three were pioneers in different religions, yet their teachings and practice were the same.
We still remember and cherish the leaders who left our side over the past five years because they agonized more with troubles in the real world than words in the religious text, working with common people to help solve problems together.
They focused on issues that concerned common people and neighbors more than expounding on ideals, abstract theories and religious principles.
Their religions - Protestantism, Catholicism and Buddhism, respectively - seek universal truth encompassing the lives and deaths of mankind living on this earth. But the three were not just religious leaders but also national leaders with deep roots in the Korean identity and connection with the people.
The staggering industrialization and democratization this country has accomplished in less than a half century came at the expense of many losses.
But our society somehow endured the losses with more tolerance than rage and more compromise than conflict.
And we have the three religious leaders to thank. They endlessly emphasized social harmony and justice, which was possible due to their common belief and philosophy on humanity and community.
We need not ask them which god is more absolute. During their time among us, their eyes always were on the people and their livelihood. They preached how we should endeavor to build a community together with infinite love, compassion and belief in humanity.
First, they taught that we are human beings of reason, capable of creating and following principles for common prosperity through mutual trust and sufficient dialogue.
They implanted a belief and confidence in us that we are of a race with the capacity to build a peaceful community.
Second, they stressed that humans are, without exception, weak beings, so we must rely on one another through tolerance and compassion in order to maintain harmony in the community.
In their unique character and belief, Kang Won-yong, Kim Sou-hwan, and Beopjeong delivered a common lesson that we need to muster forces to unite and harmonize and avoid conflict and confrontation by keeping faith in one another.
Having reached extraordinary religious heights, they advised against the antihuman path of surrendering to materialism and ideology.
Social and political change can only be pursued in a normal path when motivated by change in the minds of the people.
The sages wanted to spread the wisdom that a community cannot sustain health and justice without the philosophy of co-sharing among neighbors. They also attested to the fact that human rights of freedom and choice cannot be compromised.
It is not easy to practice these norms and morals in the rapidly changing age of globalization. But in many corners of the world, at this very moment, there is political and economic turbulence.
It is why we must recall the lessons of our three great leaders: to trust, understand and cooperate with one another, and ensure we do not fall into the trap of self-complacency.
Politics in Korea today are a complete mess, ripped by factional divisions on top of partisanship. We fear the ripples of confrontation will spill over to the broader society.
Our three religious leaders will be looking down with anxious eyes. It is a pity that they are not with us to guide us through chaotic times like these.
*The writer is former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Hong-koo