South Korea started to train priests for North Korea – Your Bible
For the first time in about 40 years the Catholic Church in South Korea began to teach seminarians, who will serve as priests in North Korea, a country that is often criticized U.S. and international organizations for the oppression of believers.
“We cannot say that North Korea wants us to do. But we do it with hope for the future, when the two parts of the country will unite,” he said in an interview with Monsignor Matthew Hwang In-Kook, Episcopal vicar of the diocese of Pyongyang.
Catholic priest are not allowed to be on a permanent basis in North Korea, the country, the Catholic community which before the war, 1950-53 had about 55 000 believers.
The first five seminarians, who should be the clergy of the Pyongyang diocese, started training last week. According to Mons. Hwang, a small group of new students will be recruited each year.
Their preparation will take about 10 years, but then they may not be allowed to the North.
Clerics from the South and occasionally come to the DPRK, most often, they accompany the cargo of humanitarian aid or oversee the launching of charitable projects. According to some, one South Korean priest was able to conduct mass in Pyongyang on the day of death of Pope John Paul II.
Earlier in the Pyongyang diocese, annexed to Seoul Archdiocese in 1970 were about 20 priests, but today only seven of them continue to serve. Including – Mons. Hwang, born in Pyongyang in 1936 and at the age of 14 fled from North Korea.
“The accession of the diocese of Pyongyang to Seoul was a condition to the priests, like me, could come when the two Koreas will be United,” says Hwang.
The same applies to new Seminary students – their training does not include some special preparation to serve in one of the most closed countries in the world.
A NEW CAMPAIGN TO THE NORTH
The Korean Church began a new campaign to the North three years ago, when the new Archbishop of Seoul, was appointed cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-Suk. The Prelate also serves as acting Apostolic of Pyongyang.
The founding date of the Catholic community in Pyongyang is considered to be 1896. In 1927 the Apostolic Prefecture of the city, formerly under the command of Seoul, was made into a separate diocese.
The defeat of Japan in world war II put an end to colonial rule in Korea that lasted from 1910 to 1945. The front line of the Cold war divided the Peninsula into two parts – North went to the Communists, who began to struggle with religion, introducing instead a cult of personality for its leader Kim Il-Sung – a new deity, who was supposed to lead the masses to the creation of heaven on earth.
In the North claim that freedom of religion is protected by the state. However, the U.S. state Department in a report from 2008 stated that “genuine religious freedom does not exist” in North Korea. The report refers to reports of arrests and executions of members of underground Christian communities.
North Korea built several churches, including the Catholic one, to demonstrate that Christianity existed in the country freely. Human rights activists, however, say that it is “fake”.
Catholic community of South Korea does not have data on the number of Catholics in the North, and other organizations cite figures from a few hundred to 4,000 believers.
In South Korea, there are 4.5 million Catholics. With a total population of 49 million, this country has one of the highest percent of Catholics in Asia.
In the Cabinet of Mons. Hwang hangs an old map of Pyongyang. The priest gladly shows where his house is and how close his Church – now long gone – were located from the place which is now called the square of Kim Il-Sung.