Following the devastating loss of life during Halloween celebrations in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul, the country’s president, Yoon Suk-yeol, held a number of meetings with religious leaders last week to discuss how the country can best move forward. The meetings included conversations with leaders from the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, South Korea’s largest Buddhist order.
The disaster, which occurred on 29 October when nighttime revelers became trapped in over-crowded alleyways and streets, led to 158 deaths and nearly 200 injuries.
Yoon has attended memorial services hosted by several religious groups and has met with several Protestant, Catholic, and Buddhist leaders. Among these visits were one 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: “A lot of lives have been lost due to the tragedy, and not only the bereaved families but the entire nation are grieving and feeling pain from the losses. The president is trying to get advice on how the nation can be united again and overcome this national tragedy amid comfort and encouragements.” (Korea Times)
The statement also noted that President Yoon intended reach out to other religious leaders.
In his meeting with Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung, Yoon said: “I feel terrible that this tragedy happened after I take charge of the administration. It’s heartbreaking to think about the parents of the victims who couldn’t come back home from the festival.” (Korea Times)
Yoon asked religious leaders to provide guidance to those in South Korea still paralyzed by the tragedy: “I came here to ask for your support for people struggling to return to normal.” (Korea Times)
Ven. Jaseung reportedly encouraged flexibility on the part of the president, as well as through explanations to the people so that they could know the government’s plans. Ven. Hyegeo expressed hope that the country would overcome this period of loss with wisdom through an eye to conflict resolution and developing greater harmony.
Following the tragedy, Yoon visited mourning alters for five consecutive days, paying tribute to the victims through the traditional mourning period. On 4 November, he attended a Buddhist memorial service hosted by the Jogye Temple.
It was at the Buddhist temple that he made his first official apology, saying: “I feel deplorable and sorry as a president who is in charge of the people’s lives and safety.” (Korea Times)
In its statement, the presidential office explained his visit to the religious services saying that Yoon “believes survivors, bereaved family, friends, and the country should be consoled while it’s also important to investigate the reason behind this tragedy and find who’s responsible.” (Korea Times)
Data from South Korea’s 2015 national census shows that the majority of South Koreans—56.1 per cent of the population—hold no religious affiliation. Christians make up the largest religious group at 27.6 per cent of the population, while Buddhists account for 15.5 per cent.
President seeks advice from religious leaders to help nation heal wounds from Itaewon tragedy (Korea Times)
Yoon meets with Buddhist, Christian leaders to seek advice after Itaewon tragedy (Yonhap News Agency)
Related news reports from BDG
Buddhist Leaders Join Memorial for Victims of Deadly Halloween Tragedy in Seoul
Engaged Buddhism: 20th Biennial INEB Conference Concludes in South Korea with a Commitment to Action, Peace, and Change
New Head of Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism Takes Office
Jogye Buddhist Order Condemns Perceived Religious Bias in South Korea