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Bishops offer comfort after ferry disaster

By Heather Hahn and the Rev. Jacob Lee
April 21, 2014 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

United Methodist bishops — including three Korean Americans — have extended prayers, words of comfort and the hope of Easter following last week’s ferry tragedy in South Korea.

The Sewol ferry with 476 passengers aboard sank Wednesday, April 16, off the South Korean coast. According to news reports, as of April 24, the death toll has risen to at least 171 with more than 130 people still missing — many of them high school students on a last excursion before a year of cramming for college entrance exams.

“I know you are joining me in prayer for the families and friends in my native country of South Korea as we mourn the loss of so many lives following the terrible ferry accident,” wrote Wisconsin Area Bishop Hee-Soo Jung in an April 21 pastoral letter.

“In this Easter season as we celebrate God's love in Jesus Christ and the hope of Easter, we are reminded again of the power of love and life over death and loss.”

Harrisburg (Pa.) Area Bishop Jeremiah J. Park, who also was born in South Korea, requested God’s comfort. He quoted verses from Psalm 70: “Hasten, O God, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me. … You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay.”

He noted that the losses in South Korea have come not long after an airplane disappeared over the South Indian Ocean, leaving almost 300 families without clear answers of what happened to their loved ones. The bishop prayed not only for those who mourn but also for those involved in search and recovery efforts.

“O God of our help for ages, hear us when we cry out ‘why’ to you,” Park wrote. “Help us see you at work in all of our tears, pain and broken-heartedness. You are traveling this road with us. You are weeping with us. You understand our anger, despair and helplessness. You continue to walk through the deep valley with us.”

Richmond (Va.) Bishop Young Jin Cho told United Methodist Communications that he too is heartbroken and is “sincerely praying for victims and their families.”

But the tragedy has touched far more than the Korean and Korean-American community.

A photograph of a grieving Korean woman made Chicago Area Bishop Sally Dyck think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, weeping for her crucified son.

“The agony in her face is intense, and I see it as symbolic of the agony of all who are weeping today for the children and others on the ship that sank off the coast of South Korea,” Dyck wrote in a blog post.

She said Michelangelo’s famous sculpture the Pietà, which shows a mourning Mary cradling Jesus, reminds her of how the Christian church should respond to tragedy.

“The church is called to hold those who suffer close to it and to wait and pray in hope.”

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Lee is the director of Korean resources for United Methodist Communications. Contact them at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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