02/28/2006, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA - NORTH KOREA

Card. Cheong: "Pope's visit unthinkable while repression in north lasts"

After his first mass as soon-to-be cardinal, the archbishop of Seoul described as "unacceptable" the approach of the Pyongyang regime. His appointment is a "sign of the new standing of the Korean church and the nation itself".

Seoul (AsiaNews) – "It would be unthinkable for the Pontiff not to visit the entire Korean peninsula because of the attitude of the northern part, which still today refuses to let priests, regardless of their nationality, stay there permanently." With these words, the Korean neo-cardinal, the archbishop of Seoul, Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, reiterated his "disappointment" about the record of freedom of worship under the Pyongyang regime.

Speaking to journalists in the Cathedral of Myeongdong, he said: "When the pope visits a country, priests and religious must be free to be able to meet him, to talk to him and at least to see him. The repression of freedom of worship makes this impossible."

The future cardinal, who also covers the role of apostolic administrator for Pyongyang, continued: "The number of Catholics in North Korea has shrunk from 55,000 (with 58 churches and around 100 priests) at the time of liberation from Japanese colonial rule to a reported 1,000-3,000 today, although that cannot be confirmed."

"From the part of the Holy See, and also from my part, requests have been made to North Korea, over the years, to allow the presence of priests. But they have always replied that 'it is not the opportune time'," said the neo-cardinal, who will receive the red beret in the consistory announced by the Pope, which is set to take place on 24 March.

"And yet, the Korean church, especially the diocese of Seoul, has never stopped sending good of all kinds beyond the border in recent years, going so far as to donate more than 10 million US dollars," he said.

"Before taking up the road to reunification, the two Koreas should forgive each other and repent of what they did during the civil war and the ensuing period."

The cardinal drew attention to the fact that his recent appointment "is a sign of the greater standing of the Korean Catholic Church, but also of the whole nation, because there are only 30 nations in the world that have two or more cardinals. Korea entered the OECD [the group of most economically developed countries] because the economy world recognized its worth. The same is now happening with the universal church, which has conceded it this great honour."

Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, the first Korean cardinal, "knows everything about what we need to do as he done the job over the last 37 years. I will learn everything I can from him, who is my teacher, my mentor and also like a member of my own family."

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