Seoul ( AsiaNews) - The Archbishop of Seoul, Card. Andrew Yeom Soo- jung, is in North Korea for a quick visit to the inter-Korean industrial complex of Kaesong. The Cardinal left early this morning (local time) and will return to Seoul by the evening: A press conference has been scheduled for 7pm local time. The purpose of the visit is to meet with South Korean workers who are employed in the area . However, Card. Yeom's "is not in any way connected " with the visit of Pope Francis to the Korean peninsula, from August 14 to 18 next.
Since the division of the peninsula - in 1953 - the Archbishop of Seoul has held the position of Apostolic Administrator of Pyongyang. The North's capital was once known as the " Jerusalem of Asia" for the large number of Christians who lived there: before the seizure of power by Kim Il-sung, Catholics numbered about 100 thousand; Protestants were almost double that figure. After the purges of the Stalinist regime, the numbers dropped to almost zero. Today it is impossible to estimate the number of believers of any religion who live in the North: Some AsiaNews sources speak of "about 200 maybe 2 thousand Catholics and Protestants", all forced totally underground.
Card. Yeom's visit to North Korea was planned at first for Christmas 2013: the prelate had expressed a desire to celebrate Christmas Mass in Kaesong , but the political instability of the regime and the fall of the "number 2" Jang Song- taek blocked the project. The archbishop is "the first serving cardinal to visit the North". His predecessors - the late Cardinal Stephen Kim and emeritus Nicholas Cheong - both crossed the border, but before being created cardinal by the Holy See.
Spokesman for the South Korean Ministry for Unification, Park Soo -jin said this morning that "there are no meetings of a political nature during the visit" and stressed that the cardinal "has no plans to visit Pyongyang". In addition, both the Archdiocese of Seoul and Park deny that the Papal visit has anything to do with the trip. A Catholic source for AsiaNews in the South says : "Francis is coming to Korea, but the possibility he may visit the North , unfortunately, does has nothing to do with us. Hopefully sooner or later, the pontiff will celebrate Mass in Pyongyang, but we have to be realistic. His visit is already a huge step towards peace".