12/28/2013, 00.00
KOREA
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North Korean Christians celebrate Christmas in secret underground tunnels

A refugee from Kim's regime says "there are secret places where the faithful, in groups of two or three, come together to perform religious functions." In the South, a Protestant church, led by Rev Chun, brought together the exiles for the birth of Jesus.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Christians in North Korea "celebrated Christmas as others did around the world, but in underground tunnels that are hidden from the authorities. They risked their lives, and continue to risk their lives every time they pray. Although here in South Korea there are many churches, Christians in the South have no idea how fervent the prayers of those in the North are," said Han Min, a North Korean who fled Pyongyang's Stalinist regime. With the help of a Protestant Church, he was able to escape persecution and converted.

Han is a member of the Durihana Church in Seoul, which is run by Rev Chun Ki -won. For about 14 years, this community has been committed to helping those who want to leave the northern part of the peninsula.

According to his estimates, the congregation has helped about 1,000 North Koreans flee over this period of time. After escaping to China, they usually travel to Southeast Asia and then South Korea.

The clergyman is convinced that the aid his Church provides these desperate people "naturally" leads them to Christianity.

"In North Korea, a virtual cult is in place," he said. "Everything is focused on Kim Il-sung, the way a religious believer would focus on God. Exiles know this reality and so can easily adapt to the Christian system."

In one of the last totalitarian regimes in the world, some state-controlled churches exist, but "just for propaganda, to show the world that they have freedom of religion."

"I do not recognise these churches because their intentions are not sincere. But in North Korea, there are places that we could call churches but they are underground, places where two or three gather in secret, risking their life, to celebrate religious functions."

This Christmas, about hundred people celebrated the holy day together with Han Min in freedom, in Rev Chun's church.

 "This is a time when one should be with those one loves, especially one's family. For me, it would be enough to know if my family is still alive, since I have not heard from them for about 16 years."

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