RELIGION

300,000 South Korean Buddhists Pray For Peace And Reunification With The North

05/19/2015 06:13 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015

South Korean Buddhists marked the 70th anniversary of their country's independence from Japan with a massive outdoor demonstration for peace.

About 300,000 Buddhists chanted in unison in central Seoul on Saturday, hoping that their meditations and prayers would encourage reunification with their brothers and sisters in North Korea, CNN reported.

The event was embedded into a larger cultural celebration of Buddha's birthday. The meditation was hosted by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the largest Buddhist sect in the country, and brought together about 400 Buddhist leaders from around the world, Korean news outlet Yonhap reports.

About 23 percent of South Koreans self-identify as Buddhists, according to the Pew Research Center. But the situation is very different to the north. Freedom of religion is guaranteed in North Korea's constitution, but the state controls places of worship and openly religious activity isn't allowed, Reuters reports.

Supreme Patriarch Jinje, the leader of the Jogye Order, said that although North Koreans may not be able to openly express their religion, there are "500 years of Buddhism rooted in every person's heart."

"The separation has been causing pain for the people," he told CNN. "The purpose of this meditation is to bring peace to all the people -- people of the whole world."

The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, dean at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, attended the meditation assembly and spoke at the corresponding conference. He told The Huffington Post that he admired Jinje's courage and dedication to finding a spiritual solution to heal his divided country.

"Sometimes it takes more courage to do something when you have no guarantee that you’ll be successful," Kowalski said. "But religions were intended to enhance the building of community and bring together people who have different ideas."

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Buddhists pray during a service for world peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Many monks and Buddhists participate in the service after Buddhism's Lotus Lantern Festival to celebrate Buddha's upcoming birthday on May 25. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A spotlight illuminates a Buddhist monk among other monks as they attend a service for world peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Many monks and Buddhists participate in the service after Buddhism's Lotus Lantern Festival to celebrate Buddha's upcoming birthday on May 25. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Two shaven-headed children who entered the temple to have an experience of monks' life for weeks, arrive through Buddhist monks during a service for world peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Many of monks and buddhists participate a service after Buddhism's Lotus Lantern Festival to celebrate Buddha's upcoming birthday on May 25. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    South Korean Buddhists carry lanterns in a parade during the Lotus Lantern Festival to celebrate the upcoming birthday of Buddha on May 25, on a street in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    South Korean Buddhists carry their lanterns in a parade during the Lotus Lantern Festival to celebrate the upcoming birthday of Buddha on May 25, on a street in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    South Korean Buddhists holding lanterns take a rest after a parade during the Lotus Lantern Festival to celebrate the upcoming birthday of Buddha on May 25, on a street in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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