North Korean Catholics rare meeting with foreign Christians

For more than 65 years, the Catholic Church in North Korea has been known as the “silent church”.

Then dictator Kim Il-sung purged and executed leading church figures after the communists took power in the north in 1948, severing ties with the Vatican.

Contact between North Korean Catholics and the outside world remains rare.

Following one such meeting last week, a delegation of a dozen Western and South Korean Christians to North Korea confirmed the church remains minuscule.

Nonetheless, a few hundred Catholics can worship within the narrow confines imposed by the regime, Peter Prove, director of international affairs at the World Council of Churches, told after flying out of Pyongyang.

“It operates under very different conditions from that which we on the outside might consider ideal. But it is a genuine witnessing community,” he said.

The delegation spent a week inside the country on behalf of the Ecumenical Forum for Korea, a group that has built ties with the north and south in the name of peace on the divided peninsula.

Two leading officials of the regime-run Korean Catholic Association told the group during a one-hour meeting in Pyongyang that North Korea had not had an ordained priest for about seven years.

Pyongyang’s Changchung Cathedral, the only bricks-and-mortar Catholic church known to exist in the country, has been run by laymen in recent years, officials told the delegation.

Catholic priests from South Korea have traveled to Pyongyang to hold Mass in the cathedral.

“But in the context of recent tensions, it’s been very difficult — in fact impossible — to receive such visits,” Prove said he was told.

North and South Korea held marathon talks in the demilitarized zone to defuse military tensions in August. Since then, a new period of rapprochement has seen separated families visit across the demilitarized zone for the first time in years.

Officials told last week’s Christian delegation that about 200 North Koreans worship in Changchung Cathedral every Sunday. Continue reading


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