Following the devastating loss of life during Halloween celebrations in Seoul’s Itaewon district, the country’s President, Yoon Suk-yeol, held several meetings with religious leaders last week to discuss the best way for the country to go forward. The meetings included conversations with leaders of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the largest Buddhist order in South Korea.
The disaster, which occurred on October 29 when late-night revelers became trapped in crowded alleyways and streets, left 158 people dead and nearly 200 injured.
Yoon attended memorial services held by several religious groups and met with several Protestant, Catholic and Buddhist leaders. Among those visits was a visit to the Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul last Wednesday to meet Archbishop Chung Soon-taick and Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung. Last Tuesday, he invited Protestant leaders to the presidential office for lunch and visited Bongeun Temple in Seoul’s Gangnam district. There he met six monks who lead the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism: Ven. Jaseung, Ven. Jagwang, Ven. Dohu, Ven. Jimyeong, Ven. Hyegeo and Ven. Wonmyeong.
In a statement, the president’s office said: “Many lives have been lost to the tragedy, and not only the bereaved families, but the entire nation is grieving and feeling the pain of these losses. The president is trying to d ‘to get advice on how the nation can be united again and overcome this national tragedy amid comfort and encouragement.(Korea Timetables)
The statement also noted that President Yoon intended to reach out to other religious leaders.
When meeting with Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung, Yoon said, “I feel bad that this tragedy happened after I took over the administration. It is heartbreaking to think of the relatives of the victims who were unable to return home after the festival. (Korea Timetables)
Yoon asked religious leaders to provide guidance for people in South Korea still paralyzed by the tragedy: “I came here to ask for your support for people who are struggling to get back to normal.” (Korea Timetables)
Fri. Jaseung is said to have encouraged flexibility on the part of the president, as well as explanations to the people so they can know the government’s plans. Fri. Hyegeo expressed the hope that the country would overcome this period of loss wisely, keeping in mind the resolution of conflicts and the development of greater harmony.
After the tragedy, Yoon visited mourning altars for five consecutive days, paying respects to the victims throughout the traditional mourning period. On November 4, he attended a Buddhist memorial service hosted by Jogye Temple.
It was at the Buddhist temple that he made his first formal apology, saying, “I feel deplorable and sorry as a president who is in charge of people’s lives and safety.” (Korea Timetables)
In its statement, the presidential office explained his visit to religious services saying that Yoon “believes that survivors, bereaved family, friends and country should be comforted while it is also important to investigate the reason for this tragedy and find out who is responsible”. (Korea Times)
Data from the 2015 national census in South Korea shows that the majority of South Koreans (56.1% of the population) have no religious affiliation. Christians are the largest religious group with 27.6% of the population, while Buddhists make up 15.5%.
President seeks advice from religious leaders to help nation heal wounds of Itaewon tragedy (Korea Timetables)
Yoon meets with Buddhist and Christian leaders for advice after Itaewon tragedy (Yonhap News Agency)
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