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Mass to be celebrated in Pyongyang

SEOUL (AsiaNews): For the first time in many years Mass is to be celebrated on a regular basis in Pyongyang, the People’s Republic of Korea.

An announcement from the bishops of South Korea in Seoul says that priests will be sent on a regular basis to celebrate Mass for major Catholic festivities.

“Moreover, channels of dialogue have been opened to improve religious exchanges between the two sides of the border in the coming years,” a spokesperson for the South Korean Bishops’ Conference announced on December 7 at a press conference with a delegation of four bishops and 13 priests who had visited Pyongyang.

The visit lasted four days and was on the back of an invitation from the North Korean Catholic Association. The bishops’ conference said that the priests who visit the North will be able to celebrate Mass at the Changchung cathedral in Pyongyang, the only Catholic church in the country.

He added, “The delegation laid the groundwork for increased cooperation and exchanges between the Catholics of Korea.”

Occasional Masses were celebrated in Pyongyang in the early 2000s, but since then even that privilege had been removed.

The North Korean Constitution guarantees religious freedom, but in fact it is non-existent. The only cult admitted is that of national leaders (the father of his country, Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il) and people of all religions face harsh penalties—even the firing squad—if caught displaying religious behaviour.

There are three churches in the capital Pyongyang, two Protestant and one Catholic, but they are believed to be smoke screens for the few tourists who visit the country.

There are no Catholic priests, Protestant pastors or Buddhist monks resident in North Korea.

The Catholic Association of North Korea claims to have 3,000 subscribers, but sources in Seoul estimate that there are less than 800 and these are mostly the very old people, baptised before the Korean War, which broke out in 1950.

However, for those who have no way to practice their faith except on some special occasions, like Christmas, it is possible  to meet and exchange a greeting of peace, but that is all.


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