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North Korea

Christians under dark reign of Kim Jong Il

Rome (AsiaNews) 28 February, 2004 - During the Beijing summit meetings regarding the North Korean nuclear program requests from many exiled North Koreans were ignored. They had asked to discuss the serious violations human rights and religious freedom occurring in their homeland.

The situation experienced by Christians in North Korea is emblematic of the brutal human rights conditions found in the country. News that manages to leak out of the country speaks of violent persecutions and tight government control of religious freedom and worship.

Such news comes form Christians and political dissidents who have managed to escape abroad, as well as from tourists, government employees, foreign journalists and Christian delegations, whose mobility is limited and mostly restricted to the capital of Pyongyang and immediate surrounding areas.

According to the testimony of a North Korean refugee reported by Forum 18 News Service, some elderly Christians were killed in a small town on the Chinese border. The motive for their killings, which occurred in the year 2000, was because they had refused to renounce their faith. Former North Korean citizens and prisoners, like Soon-Ok Lee, have said that Christians in reeducation camps and jails are treated worse than other prisoners.

Due to the reign of terror which has existed in North Korean, persons living in nearby regions have only discovered after ten years that they shared the same faith. Human Rights Without Frontiers says that in order to escape from police repression Christians meet secretly in groups of ten, often with members of the same family.

In recent years Pyongyang has grown worried about "spiritual pollution" of North Koreans and has attempted to persecute such "corrupt" citizens living abroad. In China, for example, where there are 100,000-300,000 North Korean refugees, Pyongyang has obtained support from Beijing to hunt the "fugitives" down.

A Japanese human rights activist has revealed that During long interrogations, North Korean government authorities ask the repatriated refugees what kind of contact they've had with South Korean missionaries working in China, if they read the Bible or attend church services. Those they who admit to contact with missionaries or any other religious affiliations and activities are imprisoned and condemned to death. The church's Protestant pastor, as some reports indicate, is being blackmailed by Pyongyang which holds his family hostage.

The situation is not much better in North Korea. In the capital there are only 2 Protestant churches in addition to one priestless Catholic church and a new Orthodox center of worship. Many foreigners who have attended religious services do not believe that the celebrations and faithful are "fake" or dramatized by the government, but all noted that sermons were filled with many political references. Others have said that government propaganda is found to exist within these churches and are not in constant use.

There are no exact figures on the number of faithful and places of worship existing in North Korea. In July 2002, at the request of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the North Korean government released brief and evasive information on the status of Christians living in the country. In terms of Catholic numbers authorities said there were 800 faithful in the country with 2 "centers of public worship" and one sanctuary.

The governments said there were around 12,000 Protestants in North Korea with 2 churches, "500 centers of worship for families" and 20 pastors. In Jan. 2004 an exponent of Baptist Church-run Cornerstone Ministries told the US Commission on Religious Freedom that there were 100,000 Protestant North Koreans.

According to certain estimates there are about 100,000 Christians out of a total population of 24 million in North Korea, of which 12,000 are Protestants and 4000 Catholics. It is said that since communists took over the government in 1953, some 300,000 Christians have disappeared and there are no longer priests or nuns in the country, all likely killed during times of persecution. (MR)

North Korean Catholics attend Mass in South for 1st time in 50 years

SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) -- North Korean Catholics attended Mass officially for the first time in South Korea since the peninsula was divided more than 50 years ago. Samuel Chang Jae-on, president of the Korean Roman Catholics' Association in North Korea, and 16 other Catholics of Changchung Church in Pyongyang, the communist country's capital, attended the Mass March 2 at Seoul's Myongdong Cathedral, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand. Chang said before the Mass began that "though Catholics of Changchung Church have been without a priest they have strong faith." The North Korean visitors, seated in a pew near the altar, bowed their heads after receiving Communion from Auxiliary Bishop Lucas Kim Un-hoe of Seoul, who presided at the Mass. As many as 1,200 South Korean Catholics also attended the Mass. After Communion, an eight-woman choir of Changchung Church, all in light-green traditional Korean dress, sang a hymn praying for peace.


Caritas sits North and South Korea Around the Same Table in Beijing
Interview with Miss Kathi Zellweger of Caritas Hong Kong

Rome (Fides Service) - Fides Service spoke to Miss Kathi Zellweger, Director of International Co-operation Caritas Hong Kong who is in Rome to attend a meeting of Caritas Internationalis in the Vatican to discuss the situation of food shortage in North Korea. Excerpt:

Fides: What is the role of the Catholic Church in N. Korea ?
Miss Zellweger: The Church in N. Korea is very small. Official figures put the number of Catholics at 3,000 and 800 of these are in Pyongyang. Unfortunately there are no priests which means that Mass can be said only when clergy from other countries come visiting: for example on the occasion of the annual visit by the Holy See delegation, this year in May. I wish this could happen more often. The Mass was well attended and the surprise was that there were many non Korean Catholics present and perhaps for the first time it was obvious that a regular Catholic liturgical service would be necessary in N. Korea. With regard to assistance the Church in N. Korea lacks the structures necessary for taking part in humanitarian programmes.


Vatican Delegation´s Mission In North Korea
No Priests Left and No Data on Number of Catholics

VATICAN CITY, MAY 16, 2002 ( Vatican delegation recently visited North Korea to improve relations with the People's Democratic Republic.

Vatican envoys, Monsignor Celestino Migliore, Vatican Under-Secretary for Relations with States, and Fr. Luis Mariano Montemayor, adviser to the Nunciature in the State Secretariat, ended their mission on May 14.

"This was the sixth visit of a Vatican delegation to North Korea. It has reaffirmed the constant solidarity of the Holy Father in favor of the North Korean people and has contributed to give continuity to relations established with governmental authorities of Pyongyang, in particular, with the Foreign Affairs Ministry," a Vatican Press Office statement explained.

According to the statement, the Vatican delegation held meetings in Pyongyang with officials of the Association of Catholics of North Korea (controlled by the Communist regime), and was able to celebrate the feast of the Lord's Ascension with the local and international Catholic community in the Church of Chan Chung.

The Vatican and North Korea do not maintain diplomatic relations. Along with the People's Republic of China, it is the only country for which the Statistical Yearbook of the Church has no figures on the number of Catholics.

Before Korea was split in two, there were some 60 priests in the North. It seems that after the split, all of them were martyred.

There has been no news on Bishop Francis Hong Yong-ho of Pyongyang since 1962. It is most probable that he died, although last year the Vatican missionary agency "Fides" did not discard the possibility that he was confined in a re-education camp.

In recent years, Caritas has been one of the few aid agencies that has worked in the country, offering food and other assistance.


North Korea Urged to Allow Missionaries

SEOUL, South Korea, JUNE 21, 2001 ( North Korea has been asked to allow missionaries into the country, to help its people spiritually and materially.

The Commission of Catholic Bishops for the Reconciliation of the Korean People made the request to the Communist government.

The text of the request was published for the Day of Unity and Reconciliation of the Korean People, which will be held this Sunday, a year after the historic meeting in Pyongyang between the presidents of the two Koreas.

The message asks Pyongyang to grant freedom of worship and invites Korean Catholics to participate in aid programs to the people of the North. ZE01062106


Mass goers display Presidential badge

Pyongyang (Fides) - Julius, one of the very few North-Korean Catholics, has one dream, to become a priest. The 45 year old layman, a major figure for the 800 Catholics in Pyongyang, is the first North Korean to openly aspire to the priesthood since 1945 when the Korean peninsula was divided in
two. Julius lives a life of celibacy, studies theology and leads Sunday Liturgies of the Word for the faithful in Jangchung Church, the only Catholic church in the whole of North Korea. But without a priest, North Korean Catholics are without Mass. This is why Julius wants to give his life to the Lord.

According the figures supplied by the Korean Bishops' Conference, in North Korea there are about 3,000 Catholics. Some were baptised before the Korean War (1950-1953), others were taught the faith by their parents. After longs years of hiding and persecution the Catholic Church in North Korea began to show signs of life in 1989, when Susanna Im Soo-kyong, at that time a college student, and Father Paul Moon Kyu-hyeun visited Pyongyang. Both were confined to prison for three years on their return to Seoul because of the visit. After this visit the Catholic religion was recognised and the government-controlled North Korean Roman Catholic Association was set up.

According to information collected by Fides, North Korean Catholics live their faith at home, also praying at home. Representatives of the Catholic Association visit families for catechism. However, nothing is known of the whereabouts of Mgr Francis Hong Yong-ho Bishop of Pyongyang until 1962,
and about 50 other priests known to be in North Korea in the 1940s. Today, if they are still alive, they must be in their eighties or nineties. Occasionally clergy from the South have been allowed to visit the North and to celebrate Mass. The last Mass celebrated in Pyongyang was on November 12, 2000, during a visit to the country by a Holy See delegation led by Mgr Celestino Migliore, Under-Secretary for relations with states, who celebrated Mass for about 200 Korean faithful, all members of the North
Korean Roman Catholic Association, and all wearing the badge of North Korean President Kim Jong-Il.

The Mass was celebrated in English with simultaneous translation into Korean by two of the Catholics present. The Association's deputy-president welcomed the Holy See delegation on behalf of the others, but the rest of the people were not allowed to converse with the visitors from Rome. The
Association's leaders agree that the Catholic community in Pyongyang should have a priest to hold services, on the condition that he is "suited to North Korean society". Hymns during Mass were sung by a local all-male choir, but the hymnbook came from Seoul. (Fides)


Holy See Still Studying Possibility of Papal Trip

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 14, 2000 ( A Vatican delegation had concluded a decisive visit to North Korea today, the Holy See confirmed.

The visit was confirmed by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. It comes in the wake of the South Korea president's suggestion last July that Pyongyang invite Pope John Paul II to the communist North.

In an official statement, Navarro-Valls explained that the Vatican delegation, "in its fifth consecutive visit to Pyongyang, hoped to reaffirm the effective and constant solidarity of the Holy Father with the people of North Korea, and continue the relations established earlier with governmental authorities, particularly with the foreign affairs minister."

Members of the delegation included Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Vatican undersecretary for relations with states, and Bishop Mariano Montemayor, an official of the secretariat of state.

"An important moment of the visit was the prayer meeting with the Catholic community in the capital, and the Mass celebrated on Sunday in the Church of Chan Chung," Navarro-Valls explained. "After the Mass, there was a meeting with the leader of the Association of North Korean Catholics."

North Korea is believed to have only about 3,000 to 4,000 Catholics, and no priests in the capital. Before the 1950-1953 Korean War there were more than 100,000 Catholics in what became North Korea. For almost 50 years there have been no ordinations.

South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung, recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, gave a historic boost to rapprochement with the North when he took part in a summit in Pyongyang last July with North Korean leader Kim Jong II.

On that occasion the South Korean leader suggested that the Communist leader invite John Paul II to visit North Korea, as a sign of peace and reconciliation. Pyongyang and the Vatican are studying the proposal.

For the Pope to visit, North Korea would have to respect religious liberty and establish relations with the Vatican.

Over the last few days, Duncan MacGregor MacLaren, secretary-general of Caritas International, also has been visiting this Communist country. Caritas has worked in North Korea since 1995, when floods caused more than 2 million deaths.

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