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South Korea forming priests for the North

SEOUL (UCAN): Two Korean dioceses announced on May 20 that they have entered into a formal agreement to provide formation for priests and seminarians to work in North Korea in the eventuality of a reunification of the north-south Korean divide.

Hamhung, which is theoretically in the north, has signed an agreement with Chunchon diocese to receive some candidates selected from among its seminarians and educate them with the view of working as priests on the northern side of the Demilitarised Zone in the future.

Both of these dioceses are currently technically part of Seoul archdiocese, but on paper, Hamhung only exists in North Korea. 

The diocese covers most parts of South and North Hamkyeong provinces in North Korea. Its apostolic administrator is Bishop Lucas Kim Woon-hoe, from Chunchon.

Hamhung at one time had trained its own priests with six of them currently serving in Pusan in the south and one in Incheon. 

However, since 2000, Hamhung cancelled its priestly formation programme due to a lack of seminarians.

Now, Hamhung intends to accept seminarians from other dioceses and their formation programme will be conducted by the Vocation Department from Chunchon.

“Hamhung diocese stopped its operation for more than 70 years, but we need priests dedicated to the diocese,” Bishop Kim commented.

“As priestly formation takes a long time, we should do it right now in preparation for reunification,” he said.

The agreement stipulates that seminarians for Hamhung diocese will undergo academic courses together with their counterparts from Chunchon.

They will be ordained deacons and priests for Chunchon, but will be identified as diocesan priests for Hamhung and return to work there once its operation is resumed, whenever that may be possible.

Hamhung was established as an apostolic vicariate in 1940 and became a diocese in 1962, when the hierarchy of the Korean Catholic Church was instituted.

However, as Communist North Korea rules its territory and since there is no formal Catholic presence there, it remains what Koreans describe as a Church in Silence.

Hamhung is not the only diocese to invite priests onto formation programmes for future mission in its territory.

Pyongyang in North Korea, which is under the administration of Seoul, only exists on paper. It  is running a similar programme in cooperation with Seoul and its first priest was ordained in February.

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