Park apologizes again for ferry disaster on Buddha’s birthday

May 6, 2014
President Park Geun-hye prays during a ceremony marking Buddha's birthday at the Jogye Order in central Seoul on May 6, 2014. (Yonhap)

President Park Geun-hye prays during a ceremony marking Buddha’s birthday at the Jogye Order in central Seoul on May 6, 2014. (Yonhap)

SEOUL, May 6 (Yonhap) — President Park Geun-hye once again apologized for a ferry sinking that has left hundreds of people dead or missing during a Buddhist ceremony that solemnly paid tribute to victims of the tragic incident on Tuesday.

Park expressed her regret over the Sewol ferry’s sinking and pledged to carry out an overhaul of social systems plagued with irregularities. She is the first incumbent South Korean president to attend a ceremony celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

“People who were blinded by worldly desires did not abide by safety regulations, and overlooking such injustice has eventually caused the death of people,” Park said during a ceremony held at the Jogye Order, the country’s largest Buddhist sect, whose complex was decorated with colorful lanterns.

Park has previously apologized for the government’s failed early response and “deep-rooted evils” that contributed to the sinking of the ferry, which is South Korea’s worst-ever maritime disaster in the last two decades.

Most of victims were students from Danwon High School in Ansan, south of Seoul, who were on a school trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.

Park referred to Buddha’s principle that appreciates all living things to stress her commitment to carry out reforms to strengthen safety regulations.

“I ask for your support to correct deep-rooted irregularities and evils, and establish justice in our society, following the teachings of Buddha,” said Park, who prayed with leading Buddhist leaders during the ceremony.

This year’s event was held to pay tribute to victims and console their family members as the tragic incident has sent the country into a state of collective grief.

“I thank you for having me in this year’s event to pay tribute to victims of the ferry incident and to share pain and sorrow of the bereaved families,” Park said. “I pray for the souls of the victims and wish Buddha’s mercy to be with the bereaved families who lost their loved ones.”

On Sunday, Park visited Jindo, the island that the Sewol ferry sank near, to meet relatives who were still waiting for the bodies of their loved ones to be recovered from the submerged ship. It was her second visit to the ferry victims, following her previous visit made shortly after the ship carrying 476 passengers sank on April 16.

As the search entered its 21st day, 263 people have been confirmed dead, with 39 still missing.

As of Tuesday, over 223,000 people have visited a joint altar set in Ansan, where the school is located, to pay tribute to the victims. In Seoul, people lined up at a temporary altar set up in front of City Hall to pay their condolences.