Local Koreans Concerned But Not Panicky Over War Threat at Home

Members of the Korean Apostolate in the diocese participated in the annual Migration Day celebration. Photo © Marie Elena Giossi
Members of the Korean Apostolate in the diocese participated in the annual Migration Day celebration. Photo © Marie Elena Giossi

by Marie Elena Giossi

While North Korea marked the April 15 anniversary of its founder’s birth with flowers and remembrances, rather than more threatening rhetoric and missile tests, concerns about a nuclear attack on the U.S. continued to loom.

This month, following weeks of war threats, North Korea marks two significant anniversaries – the April 15 birth of late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung and the April 25 anniversary of the creation of the North Korean Army, both of which have been seen as potential occasions for strong military displays.

“It’s most likely just threats, but I am a bit worried about rash actions,” shared Mitchell Lee, 18, a parishioner of St. Paul Chong Ha Sang, Flushing.

“I think the new leader (Kim Jong-un, grandson of Kim Il-sung) is lacking leadership,” Lee said. “He’s threatening, maybe bluffing, to affirm his leadership because he’s young and not many accept him as their leader.”

Lee’s uncle, who lives in the Seoul region of South Korea, has told him that based on North Korea’s history, people there are concerned, “but not seriously worried about a war.”

That is the same sense Cecilia Chong says she’s gotten from her cousins in South Korea.

“The feeling, at least what I have been told, is that he (Kim Jong-un) is just bluffing and soon things will calm down,” said Chong, a parishioner of St. Robert Bellarmine parish, Bayside.

“We, in America, are more nervous than they are. I’m very nervous because I’m going (to South Korea) in July,” she said. It will be her first trip home since coming to the U.S. in 1977. “My husband and I are taking our son for the first time.”

She noted that many Koreans believe 30-year-old Kim Jong-un is simply posturing and making threats to gain the respect of his military and his people, and perhaps even more importantly, to establish himself as a leader on the world stage.

“We know it has to come to an end, but the question is, how will it end,” Chong said.

At Holy Spirit Church, Borough Park, parishioners are “praying hard for a peaceful resolution,” said Father Heebong Nam, pastor, who emigrated from Seoul in 1981.

Like Lee and Chong, he has heard from parishioners that their relatives in South Korea are more calm about the situation than people in the U.S.

Looking at the actions of Kim Jong-un, Father Nam said, “He’s using old methods. His father used to try to draw the (negative) attention of the world. But the intensity is different this time. We don’t know who is behind him, and that makes me worry.”

Although Kim Jong-un was handpicked by his father to succeed him, the priest noted that does not mean the nation’s military generals and soldiers accept him.

“To have the army’s respect, he has to show something to them, show that he can go against the Americans,” said Father Nam, who fears the young leader may “do something just not to look like a petulant child. I don’t know which way he’s going to go.”

As for a peaceful resolution, Father Nam said, “Anything is possible. … We have to offer special sacrifices for that purpose, and God will give us the chance to make it right peacefully.”

“As a Catholic and a Korean, this is a difficult situation,” added transitional Deacon Paul Kim, who also has his roots in Seoul.

Noting that Jesus always sought out the sinners and those most in need, he said, “The key is prayer. We are praying for him (Kim Jong-un). We pray he feels the love of Christ and retracts his threats.”

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