A Letter from Families of the Sewol Ferry Tragedy to Pope Francis

A Letter from Families of the Sewol Ferry Tragedy

13 August 2014

Your Beloved Holiness Pope Francis, please read the below letter from Sewol families.

The word ‘Sewol’ means flowing time in Korean. The ferry with the name ‘Sewol’ capsized on 16 April 2014 at sea in front of Jindo, a southern part of South Korea. Unlike its name, after the Sewol ferry capsized, Sewol families’ time never flowed and stopped on the day.

We are the parents of Danwon High School students, 2nd grade, who lost their lives in the Sewol ferry tragedy. We are still wondering whether we are dreaming or not. We sigh and lament while missing them, but we cannot do anything else but just call their names because they do not exist anymore. We want to hold their hands, see their faces and hug them. However, we could not even hug our children’s cold dead body swelled in the sea because we did not want to damage the body. There are still 10 missing victims under the cold sea. At least we found our dead children, but they are waiting for their family members that cannot even be recognized unless they test their DNA. Four family members were on the ferry together, the mother was found dead, the father and 7-year old son are missing, and only the 5-year old daughter has survived. That little girl is crying “My Mom, Dad and brother moved away and left me alone here.”

Your Holiness Pope Francis, we heard that you ran to the scene of the fire in Buenos Aires and joined the rescue operation when you were cardinal of Argentina. You arrived there earlier than fire engines and later, you strongly criticized the government and prosecutor’s office who did not investigate the case properly. As a result, as the case went to a higher court, hidden reasons of the fire were revealed and responsible people were punished heavily. Korean catholic churches have been very supportive of us. After the Sewol tragedy, they held daily catholic mass at Paengmok harbor in Jindo and Ansan. Several hundreds of catholic fathers and nuns joined hunger strike at Gwanghwamun Plaza with other people in solidarity with Sewol families. However, the South Korean Government, investigative agencies, judicial bodies, parliament and even the media close their eyes to the families’ request.

Our call is simple. We want to know why our family members had to die. We want to know why such a dangerous ferry was able to sail, and why a single person was not rescued. We also want to know why the media falsely reported that everyone was saved right after the tragedy and why they lied that the Government was providing all possible rescue personnel and equipment for the rescue operation when it is later discovered that the coast guard failed to rescue passengers.

Soon after the tragedy, the President and many politicians promised that they would never let such tragedies happen again. President Park said in her speech on 19 May 2014 that final responsibility is on her and she would enact a special law to find the truth. We never thought that the President’s promise may be a lie. However, as time goes by, Sewol families are ignored. President Park said that we can come to see her whenever necessary but the police blocked the road to the President’s Office when we went. This makes us believe that she is afraid of something. It has not been verified where President Park Geun-hye was for 7 hours during the so-called ‘golden hour’. That golden hour is the time when our families were dying in the ferry. However, the President’s office and the ruling party tell us that we do not need to know the truth. One of the parliamentarians from the ruling party who is in charge of investigating the Sewol tragedy even circulated a text humiliating the families. Police are using violence towards families and some of us were heavily injured. The Government, ruling party and authorities who were incompetent in rescuing our families in the ferry are responding to us with violence only. We cannot accept the current situation which is full of lies and deceptions.

Families have continuously called to enact a special law for a transparent and independent criminal investigation and indictment. This special law is neither about compensation nor privilege but only to find the reasons of our family’s death and the reasons of corruption. We hope that no one will ever again have to suffer the pain and grief that we are experiencing because a thorough and independent indictment and investigation will help to prevent further disasters. This law is to help establish a safe society where there are no more repeated tragedies. Korean people are well aware of this cause and stood in solidarity with us. In a state that abandoned us, people on the ground were the real state for us.

Among those who lost their lives, there is a boy who respected you and wanted to follow your path. His name is Sung-ho Park who wished to be a priest like you, one who embraces others with tender love. Another boy named Joon-hyung Jang dreamt to be a Catholic priest. Sung-ho Choi was the only child in the family. Gun-ho who was an only child used to tell his mother to study together with him so that she could find a new job. Yoomin’s father, who raised two children alone after a divorce become bony after the hunger strike he started after losing his child and he has continued for more than 30 days until today.

Our precious children, we cannot tell them in person anymore that we love them. We lost them in front of our eyes. Your Holiness Pope Francis, please hear our prayers. We cannot bring them back to life but we can find the truth of the Sewol ferry. We want to see them at least in our dreams but they do not appear frequently, maybe this is because we could not find the truth yet. We are wearing our children’s clothes and their socks to feel that they are still with us, but we do not know what to do if these clothes are worn out. Survived students are suffering from the guilt as they thought that they abandoned their friends in the ferry. Sometimes, they just sit quietly in the classroom that used to be full of their friends and watch the empty seats. We also need to find the truth for these survived children. Otherwise, they will feel guilty whenever they think about the tragedy and will never be able to leave the Sewol ferry behind. In the time that stopped after the tragedy, our daily lives are painful like death, our bones hurt and our heart melt. We apologized to our children that they were born under weak and poor parents like us. We deplore and feel shameful that we could not protect our children when they really needed us. This is why we plucked up our heart even though our body and soul were broken after the tragedy. We try to fight against the invisible super power. This fight is not only for us but for everyone who wants to live in a safer society.

Your Holiness Pope Francis, the way to find the truth is the only way our time flows. Please pray for us not to lose our courage. Please pray for our children so that they can wait for us in a heaven. Please give us strength to fight against this corrupt and apathetic society.

Yours Sincerely,

Families of the Sewol Ferry Tragedy