Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
On behalf of the Women's Federation for World Peace International, I am delighted and honored to be able to share my perspectives on the topic of "Promoting Reconciliation and Peace-Building".
Last September 11, I was here at the UN for the annual DPI/NGO conference. During the terrible tragedies that struck that day, I was reminded of the fear I felt during the Korean War (1950-53). I found myself shuddering again.
Amidst the tragic chaos in New York, I am sure everyone wondered as I did, "How will we ever be able to attain peace?" In the last century we have seen the rise of extreme materialism, egoism and conflicting ideologies. Following the two World Wars, it has seemed that the most precious spiritual values such as morality and family values have eroded away. Serious crises are facing modern civilization, including decadence among youths, family breakdown, teenage and single parenthood, AIDS, drug abuse, crime and national instability. The way seems so distant and difficult, but I have hope and confidence that peace can be built.
Through my experiences with the Women's Federation for World Peace over the past decade, I have found our members doing a wonderful job based on our founding ideals. The two main ideals are: "All human beings are one Global Family under God," and "Living for the sake of others". WFWP volunteers have gone to all corners of the globe, building schools, teaching self-help skills, providing relief and hope to women and thus, to the community.
WFWP has a signature project, which is known as the Sisterhood Ceremonies for Peace and Reconciliation. Women of two differing countries or cultures are "matched" to each other, meet on a Bridge of Peace in a moving ceremony, and develop relationships as sisters. Since 1994, an amazing 160,000 pairs of Korean and Japanese women have come together through a series of 38 events in Seoul.
From 1995-96, some 20,000 pairs of American and Japanese women were brought together commemorating the 50th year since World War II. As the women from both sides cross the bridge and meet each other, a commitment is made to try and develop more understanding and friendship with at least one woman from another culture. These countries have shared an indescribably difficult past, and women have usually been the ones to bear the tragic consequences of war and occupation. In other instances, formerly hostile countries in Europe, the Middle East, as well as tribes in Africa have taken part in these ceremonies of reconciliation, and are steadily continuing to solidify their relationships.
The WFWP Women's Conference for Peace in the Middle East, started in 1997, gathers representatives from some 15 countries in the region. At the outset, the meetings are usually tense, but gradually the dialogues warm up, and unprecedented friendships are made. This year the delegates' consensus to build peace was expressed in a "Declaration and Findings" to be presented to relevant sections of the UN.
It is truly inspiring to witness women, who have harbored historical and racial resentments in their hearts, come together in one place, embrace each other, and shed tears of forgiveness and reconciliation. It seems to me that the virtue of forgiving each other, based on true love, is particularly essential.
As I had a chance to meet last month with North Korean leaders in Seoul, I'd like to say a few words about our exchanges with them. On August 14-16, on very short notice, some 116 North Korean delegates flew over the 38th parallel to visit Seoul for the first time. Of them, 6 were women leaders and I felt privileged to be part of the 20 South Korean women counterparts invited to meet them. They attended a joint ceremony commemorating the liberation of the Korean Peninsula on August 15, 1945. They also proposed to hold a North-South Women's Unification Rally soon, bringing together 600 women from both sides of the Kumgang Mountains. This would be the first gathering of this sort in half a century.
My first postwar trip to Pyongyang in North Korea was in February 2001. It was the first time for me to return there since my family fled North Korea as refugees, during the Korean War in 1950.
My father was captured by North Korean soldiers during our flight to the south and was never heard from again. We lost other family members as well. Thus, there has been a definite feeling of bitterness within me toward the North, all these years.
On my first trip to North Korea, as I listened to their propaganda, I felt that it would be impossible to hold a dialogue with these people. Because they had been educated since youth to uphold their system alone, they just repeatedly praised their two leaders. It seemed that they did not know how to hold a dialogue.
The second time I visited the North, I decided to share very openly about my personal situation with my guide whom I'd met during my first trip. I told her about my family, my work and my daily feelings. Gradually she began to open herself up to me, too, so that by the end of the week, we became very close friends. As a starting point for any dialogue, we must first have opportunities to meet face to face, and then to talk to each other, and to listen to each other. After visiting North Korea and witnessing their difficult situation, I came to develop compassion for them.
If we want to expand compassion, we must realize that the education of such values should begin at home. Altruistic love begins by experiencing it in the family environment. Earlier this year, Time magazine selected 10 heroes of Asia for the year. One of them was a young Korean man who was on the Air China flight that crashed in the southern part of Korea recently. Although severely injured himself, he went around the plane, helping many others who were hurt. During this tragedy that claimed more than 120 lives, he became a hero. Later when he was interviewed by Time, he said that in his family, his parents had brought him up to value life, and to help others whenever he could.
While raising our children, and teaching youth, I am sure all of us aspire to such an example. But we must also show by example how to care for and respect each other and life. By learning how to share love, we can be more responsible in our own lives beginning at home. This kind of training at home and in society nurtures the ability to forgive our enemies. We must tackle the root of the problem of conflict in order to eliminate the negativity and hatred that go around and around in a vicious cycle.
I have hope that starting with cooperation among races, we will indeed be able to start a new cycle of healing and reconciliation in our societies.
It seems that some of the major conflicts around the world are rooted in religious differences. As faith is one of the most fundamental issues for a person, in order to build world peace, we must strive to understand the viewpoints of other religions and seek reconciliation here first. When we consider that all religions speak of mercy and love, we cannot help but feel the irony when some people fight and kill over their different Gods.
Thus, from the internal aspect, working for reconciliation and peace requires each individual to strive continually towards individual perfection. We can develop our internal selves by studying the spiritual dimension of this universe, which is like the other side of the coin of the physical dimension. In order to understand God's true identity and desire more clearly, we must develop our inner spirituality. This involves much meditation, prayer and the practice of love toward all human beings.
It is my conviction that when we understand more clearly about the spiritual world we shall realize that God, the Creator, is truly our parent. Accordingly we will realize the value of all human beings truly as brothers and sisters through our common parents. Then it will make no sense for us to hurt each other, or seek to destroy each other.