The Third Week of Advent: desecrated for war

Image: Activist on Gureombie, Jeju Island (courtsey Massachusetts Peace Action)

“Be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior.” -Zep 3: 16-17

On a Sunday afternoon in February 2012, Columban Fr. Pat Cunningham got ready to attend Mass on the rock of Gureombi, a volcanic rock plateau on Jeju Island, South Korea. The rock “had sacred significance for the villagers,” said Fr. Pat, “as it was a ‘living rock’ and therefore intimately tied up with [the] identity [of the] village people – a place where people from the 400-year-old village used to celebrate their ceremonial rites.”

This particular afternoon, the village was gathering at Gureombi to protest the construction of a naval base. Back in 2007, the government of South Korea started building a US-backed military base on Jeju. Gureombi got in the way of its construction.

From the beginning, many locals opposed the military base. The celebration of Mass on the rock had been a regular feature of the village’s resistance. A few weeks after the Mass, the military blasted Gureombi to pieces.

There are approximately 83 US bases in South Korea alone. The Jeju naval base – officially called the Jeju Civilian-Military Complex Port – was part of a wider geopolitical strategy on the part of the US government to encircle China and Russia, using the Jeju base as a port of call for its warships and Aegis destroyers and outfitted with missile defense systems. Many villagers were concerned that the base would make Jeju a focal point of any future military confrontation. But many were also concerned that the base would mar their traditional way of living and destroy their precious environmental treasures.

UNESCO considers Jeju Island and nearby Beom Island, Moon Island, Seop Island, and Hallasan National Park biosphere reserves. The area is home to the already rare species of red feet crab and “pink nosed” dolphins. The coral reefs that line the coastline are majestic but sensitive to pollution.

The destruction of the island’s environment continued after 2012 and much of the environment has been polluted, covered in concrete, or blasted away. Despite the local communities' concerns, in 2016 the naval base officially opened. Fr. Pat said of the environmental destruction: “It was heartbreaking to see a beautiful place being desecrated as part of preparations for war.”

“By ratcheting up military tensions, [the Korean and US government] leave no prospect of providing real security, which can only be found in people’s access to healthy food, water, medical care, and education.”

You can read Fr. Pat’s full story here.

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Learn: Documentary filmmaker Regis Tremblay made a film about the construction of the naval base on Jeju called The Ghosts of Jeju. The Missionary Society of St. Columban supported its production.  You can watch Tremblay’s documentary here.

Pray: This week, pray with Pope Francis for the elimination of the arms trade, including the financing of military complexes. Join him in this prayer for peace.

Act: Congress has a constitutional obligation to have an informed and rigorous debate on where and when the US goes to war and how tax-payer money is used by the military. But the law passed just days after 9/11 still grants the president unchecked power to wage endless war. This disastrous policy has given three presidential administrations license to carry out at least 41 military engagements in no fewer than 18 countries.

Write to your Members of Congress this week to let them know you want them to prioritize peace.

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This story was one of four in a series for Advent 2018, "Celebrating Advent with the Holy Innocents."

Links to the other Stories