04/11/2005, 00.00
NORTH KOREA – VATICAN
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N Koreans hold Mass for late Pope

Pyongyang (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II attended by about 100 people has been held in the only Catholic Church in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang.

South Korean television aired footage of the Mass after being given the green light by the North Korean government.

"When I first heard about the Pope passing away I was very surprised, although of course I knew already that he had been sick" said Kim Yong-il, a church official at the Chang Chung Church in Pyongyang.

The state media waited until 5 April before finally announcing the death of the pontiff, three days after he died.

At the church, established in 1988, regular prayer services are held every Sunday.

North Korea does not have any seminaries to train its own priests, and the memorial for the Pope was reportedly celebrated by an ethnic Korean priest from the US.

The North Korean Catholics' Association sent a message of condolence to the Vatican after learning of his death.

Although the communist country's constitution provides for "freedom of religious belief", religious activity is discouraged by the government, considered among the most repressive in the world. According the authorities, there are some 3,000-4,000 Roman Catholics in North Korea, while a government-approved group based on a traditional religious movement allegedly has at least 10 times as many followers.

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