Seoul (AsiaNews) In a homily he read yesterday on the occasion of the 160th anniversary of the ordination of the first Korean priest and martyr, Saint Andrew Kim Dae-gon, Mgr Cheong Jin-suk, Archbishop of Seoul and Apostolic Administrator for Pyŏngyang, said that the absence of religious freedom was the main cause for North Korea's poverty and the backwardness of its population. He urged Christians to offer their fervent prayers so that the Church may pursue its pastoral mission in the North.
Archbishop Cheong celebrated the liturgy with many priests from other Korean dioceses before 20,000 faithful who had gathered in Seoul's Olympic Stadium. The mass also marked the 50th anniversary of the Legion of Mary's presence in Seoul.
In his homily, the prelate said that the persecution of the nascent Catholic Church in the 19th century must be read in socio-economic terms. Saint Andrew Kim's, patron saint of Korean priests, was "Korea's first modern intellectual" who was "well-versed in Western civilisation and knew French, Latin and Chinese. His martyrdom was a great loss, not only for the Church but for Korea as well."
Archbishop Cheong went on to say that the isolationist policy pursued by the last Korean monarchy, which persecuted the Church, was the main cause for the country's socio-economic backwardness. He stressed that, had Korea adopted a policy of religious freedom, it would have avoided Japanese colonisation.
Following the same line of thought, the Archbishop said that North Korea today resembles 19th century Korea. Its social and economic underdevelopment is the result of the lack of religious freedom.
"Before the country was divided, there were 52 parishes in the North. They had some 50,000 believers compared to 100,000 in the South. [But] after 1949, the year in which Mgr Hong Yong-ho and every priest disappeared, no priest was left alive in the North," hence, Archbishop Cheong's strong appeal for religious freedom in the North.
In sharing his pastoral concerns as Apostolic Administrator with those gathered, he called on them to offer "fervent prayers" that he may be able to pursue his pastoral mission in the North as soon as possible, and that they may eventually be given the opportunity to go north to evangelise.
In a single, unanimous voice the faithful answered "Yes", confirming their firm determination to carry out the evangelising mission "that is needed under any circumstances".