A Letter from a Survived Student from the Sewol Ferry Tragedy to Pope Francis

A Letter from Ms. Minji Choi, Survived Student from the Sewol Ferry Tragedy

14 August 2014

Dear Your Holiness Pope Francis,

Hello. My name is Minji Choi and I am studying at Danwon High School. It is a great honor for me to have a chance to write to you. I also would like to thank you for visiting my country.

I am writing to you today to share my feelings in the last 120 days after the Sewol ferry tragedy and would like to share my views on the reality of my country. It was such a painful time for me. Even though I was happy during the day time, I cried quietly every night while looking at photos that I took with my friends. Sometimes, I just want to follow after them or leave this pathetic country, but I know it is not the right time. I am looking at my friends’ photos in great agony.

After we were rescued from the tragedy and sent to the hospital, we were treated in a way that adults think the most appropriate. When we watched TV, numbers of dead and missing victims were on the screen. We were sent to a small room and ‘adult counselors’ were asking us whether we were okay. We were, of course, not okay but just told them that we were fine to end the counseling. Just like we told everyone that we were fine.

I believe that the genuine healing process can be started when the captain and other staff who left us behind and were safely rescued, unlike anyone else, and all other responsible people, sincerely apologize to us about what happened. And somebody should tell us why this tragedy happened, why passengers were told to stay calm and wait inside the ferry, and who should be responsible for this tragedy. It will be still hard to believe and to forgive them even when we know the truth and when someone apologizes to us, but at least this can be the first step to comfort my friends who perished with the ferry and their families.

We have stayed quiet so far. When the hospital gave us counseling which was hard to understand, when journalists rushed after us when we were crying at the hospital, when we were forced to go to school to prepare for our exams, when we watched my friends’ families crying, we just stayed quiet. Well, we had to stay quiet. As an 18-year old girl and as a student, it has been difficult to express our opinion, and the only thing that we can do is to get information from the media which is not independent at all. The Government’s position that we hear from the media is driving us crazy.

The media cover stories about giving us special admission to universities and monetary compensation which create negative public opinion towards us. We never asked for those privileges. Families of missing friends, as of today ten, are endlessly waiting for their children and families in a poor condition in a stadium in Jindo. Police officers even use violence against my friends’ families who want to know the truth of the Sewol ferry tragedy. I am only 18 years old, but now I know the reality.

I think my country is going crazy. This expression might be too aggressive but I would like to share how serious my country’s situation is. I cannot see my friends anymore, with whom I used to laugh together, eat together and hug each other until recently. Their parents raised my friends with full-hearted love but they can neither hug them nor touch their faces anymore. Even though we suddenly lost a part of our lives, the Government kept ignoring us.

In fact, I am happy that the Sewol ferry tragedy gets people’s attention again thanks to your visit. If we forget this tragedy and fail to find the truth, my country will repeat the same mistakes for sure and it will eventually break down. Therefore, your visit to my country really comforts us.

Your Holiness Pope Francis, you are our only hope.

Please pray for my country. Please tell my Government that people are real owners of the state and that it is a democratic country. My friend Yoo-min’s father has continued his hunger strike for more than 30 days to enact a special law for a transparent and independent criminal investigation and indictment. We are scared every day that he might leave us soon. We did not do anything wrong, but why do we have to suffer like this? When will this pain end?

Please, please I beg you. My friends who naively trusted adults and lost their lives and their families, future victims of similar tragedies like Sewol, for all of them, we need to enact a special law for the truth of the Sewol ferry tragedy and establish a safer society. We want to know why my friends had to leave us.

Please pray for us. My government does not listen to us anymore. Your word can change my government and Korean society. We already lost trust in adults and this society. Please help us and pray for us.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Yours sincerely,

Minji Choi