July 5, 2019


President Trump, Kim Jong Un and a ‘culture of encounter’

​While there has been mixed reaction to President Donald J. Trump becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea, one prominent voice made sure to applaud the action.

Pope Francis called the June 30 meeting between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a positive step toward world peace. And we join him in offering our prayers for a successful resolution to the often-tense relationship that has persisted for more than 60 years between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

After praying the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on June 30, the pope called the historic meeting a “good example of a culture of encounter.”

The Holy Father was referring to the meeting that took place in the “DMZ,” the demilitarized zone that has separated North and South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953.

After shaking hands with Kim, President Trump crossed briefly into North Korea, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to do so. The two leaders then had an hourlong conversation in a building known as “Freedom House” on the South Korean side of the border. The president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, also was present for a short period of time.

According to a story posted on Catholic News Service, the Holy Father also sent greetings to Trump and Kim and prayed “that this significant gesture constitutes a further step in the path of peace, not only in that peninsula but for the whole world.”

After the meeting, both leaders agreed to set up teams to resume talks that broke down in February over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

If there is one thing people of faith should be able to agree on, it is that we need world leaders who strive to make peace—not war—a priority of their agendas. We realize in today’s ever‑changing political climate around the globe that this is no easy task.

Meetings like the sitdown between President Trump and the North Korean leader should also help us to make certain that we offer heartfelt prayers as the nations move forward in their discussions.

Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has spoken of a “culture of encounter” as a common goal for each of us on our journey of faith, encouraging people to be fearless in the ways they look beyond themselves to the needs of others. “Faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others,” the Holy Father has said.

To take it a step further, Pope Francis has noted that the idea of reaching out and fostering dialogue—and even friendships—outside our comfort zone is what encountering our brothers and sisters is all about.

Too many in our world seem content to let a “culture of insults” (a phrase about the use of social media recently referenced by Pope Francis on Pentecost Sunday) dictate how they see our brothers and sisters who are different than us.

“In today’s world, lack of harmony has led to stark divisions. There are those who have too much and those who have nothing, those who want to live to be 100 years old and those who cannot even be born,” and there are those who, the more they use social media, the less social they become, he said.

“We need the Spirit of unity to regenerate us as Church, as God’s people and as a human family,” he said.

A spirit of unity. It must be at the heart of all discussions concerning God’s people.

If we are to heal the brokenness so evident where our human family is concerned, we must continue to find common ground and not focus on our differences.

As Pope Francis has said on more than one occasion, we must strive to build bridges, not walls.

With the world watching and so many offering their petitions for peace, we hope and pray President Trump and Kim Jong Un are listening.

—Mike Krokos

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