Korean and American Korean church leaders are calling for "healing, reconciliation and peace" amid concerns that the Virginia Tech shootings by a South Korean native could lead to a backlash against Koreans.
"I was really shocked to hear that this senseless crime was committed by a Korean-immigrated student," said Bishop Kyung-Ha Shin, president of the Council of Bishops of the Korean Methodist Church.
In a letter from Seoul sent on 18 April 2007, Bishop Shin offered condolences to the bereaved families and the American people while hoping "there will be no undesirable negative feeling and attitude toward Koreans."
Meanwhile, in the United States, more than 250 leaders of the National Association of Korean American United Methodist Churches were holding their annual meeting 16-19 April in Chicago when the shooting occurred. As word of the shooter's identity spread, the mostly clergy participants began receiving calls from their home churches asking for guidance.
"The whole community was in shock and did not know how to respond, but we prayed for the victims and their family members and the school and the community," said the Rev Keihwan Ryoo, editor of United Methodists in Service, who was reporting on the gathering on behalf of the Korean-language magazine published by United Methodist Communications.
Several pastors received reports that Korean American students had been bullied in their mostly white schools as the week progressed, Ryoo said.
The caucus held a memorial service for the shooting victims and released a pastoral letter.
"We pray that the violence that has needlessly taken innocent lives does not escalate nor happen again," said the Rev Hoon Kyoung Lee, chairman of the association. "Furthermore, we are especially concerned that the immigrant community and the children of minorities may become targeted by anti-racial backlash because of this incident.
"We pray that all of our friends and neighbors will support the Korean-American community in striving for healing, reconciliation and peace."
The 16 April 2007 massacre in Blacksburg, Virginia, left 33 people dead, including the lone gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old senior majoring in English literature. Born in South Korea, he moved to the United States in 1992 at age 8 and was raised in the suburbs of Washington DC, where his parents worked at a dry cleaner store.
Authorities said Cho appeared to shoot his victims randomly. In a video made prior to the killings and sent to NBC-TV, he ranted about rich kids and portrayed himself as persecuted.
Lee asked people throughout the church to prayer for the shooting victims and their families, the family and friends of Cho, and the minority and immigrant community in the United States.
"We departed from this meeting with a heavy heart," Ryoo reported. "A lot of churches planned special memorial services over the weekend."
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, of the Northern Illinois Conference, said the church's American Korean community is "weeping and praying" with the rest of the world. He said grief and concern over such events cross all racial and ethnic lines.
"We pray for our young people and those feeling a sense of vulnerability, isolation, insecurity and fear on their campuses, and even in their homes," Jung wrote in a pastoral letter from his Chicago office. "... I encourage each of us to offer the ministries of comfort, healing and love."
[With grateful acknowledgments to the United Methodist Church News Service USA and reporter Marta W. Aldrich]