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    » 02/16/2007, 00.00

    NORTH KOREA – VATICAN

    Pope writes letter to North Korean Catholics

    Joseph Yun Li-sun

    This is the reply of the Holy See to a Christmas card sent by the National Korean Catholic Association. It will be delivered during a visit by a Caritas delegation to Pyongyang on 27 March. Mgr Lazzaro You Heung will lead the delegation.

    Seoul (AsiaNews) – The Pope has sent a letter to North Korean Catholics that will be taken to Pyongyang by an international delegation of Caritas on 27 March. The delegation will be led by Mgr Lazzaro You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejou and president of the Korean Caritas. It is the first time that a bishop has received official permission to go to the capital in the north.

    Fr Gerald Hammond, regional superior of the Maryknoll missionaries told AsiaNews about the forthcoming visit after returning yesterday from Kaesong, a North Korean industrial complex which hosts economic cooperation projects undertaken with the southern part of the peninsula.

    The missionary said the letter of the Holy See “is a reply to a Christmas card sent to Benedict XVI by the NKCA (National Korean Catholic Association) shortly after last Christmas. This is a step head, a positive sign towards normalization of ties between the Church and the regime.”

    During his last visit, Fr Hammond – who has been in South Korea for 47 years and is one of the few westerners allowed to take humanitarian aid to the North Korean population – managed to “wrest” permission from the Stalinist government to take the delegation to Pyongyang for the visit, which will end on 31 March.

    Further, the delegation – composed of Mgr You and members of the Korean, Spanish, Japanese and American Caritas – will be able to visit a hospital on the eastern coast of the country to deliver food and health aid.

    During the last meeting with their North Korean counterparts, Caritas delegates found the atmosphere to be “decisively positive: the six-party talks on nuclear disarmament that came to a close in Beijing represent a victory for all of us, especially for the North Korean population that desperately needs help.”

    The nuclear test conducted on 9 October led to the withdrawal of all international aid projects. Only Caritas, after a meeting in Rome, decided to continue its humanitarian work. Now, the priest said, “operations by nations will start again and will be of great help to those who suffer.”

    Moves by North Korea towards a thaw in relations “should be taken very seriously because they are the very first ones in the history of bilateral ties. All the same, our optimism should be aware that it is easy to make two steps forward and one step back in this matter.”

    But “things are going well for the moment. We have invited three representatives of the North Korean government for a meeting of Caritas Internationalis that will be held in Freiburg in April. They have not replied as yet but the signals are positive.”

    However doubts remain about the Catholics’ Association and the effective presence of baptized people in the country, which has been pressing ahead with a ruthless anti-religious campaign for more than 60 years. The president of the NKCA is Samuel Chang Jae-un and the deputy president is Paul Kang Jin-young.

    In the buildings of the rectory and headquarters of the “Catholic Association”, there are no religious symbols, just big photos of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il, with political slogans.

    In 1987, a church was built for Catholics but mass is not celebrated regularly and no priests are at work there. For many, this is somewhat “smoke and mirrors” for tourists who manage to enter North Korea. So delegates going to deliver aid to the population avoid participating or concelebrating in functions.

    Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, Archbishop of Seoul and Pyongyang's apostolic administrator, had told AsiaNews: “Before the country was divided, there were 52 parishes in the North and some 50,000 believers compared to 100,000 in the South. After 1949, the year in which Mgr Hong Yong-ho and every priest were imprisoned or forced to flee, no priest was left alive in the North. We are unable to say what happened to the faithful and if there are any left.” According to Vatican sources, however, there are about 800 believers.

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    See also

    20/10/2006 SOUTH KOREA – NORTH KOREA
    Caritas to "continue work for people in North" after nuclear test

    The decision was taken at the end of a two-day meeting at the headquarters of Caritas Internationalis. Participants told AsiaNews that charity means unconditional love and that the mission of the Church, "as repeated several times by the Holy See", consists in being close to those who suffer. The North Koreans were given copies of Deus Caritas Est.



    07/06/2006 NORTH KOREA
    After nearly 60 years, mssionary enters North Korea

    The story of Fr Hammond who is allowed to cross the 38th parallel twice a year. There are no priests in the country but there is a "Catholics' Association"; there are no religious symbols at its headquarters, only a photo of Kim Jong-il.



    18/10/2006 SOUTH KOREA – NORTH KOREA
    Nuclear test "affects Caritas aid for the people"

    The director of the Korean Caritas, Fr Paul Jeremiah Hwang Yong-yeon, was the first foreigner to cross the border with North Korea after Pyongyang announced that it had carried out a nuclear test. He told AsiaNews how this experiment is sure to deal a heavy blow to the work of the Catholic organization and how ordinary people will pay the price.



    09/06/2006 SOUTH KOREA – NORTH KOREA
    South Korean Caritas new channel of Catholic aid to north

    The agreement "implies that North Korea acknowledges the work of the South Korean section as the only channel of aid from Catholics from all over the world."



    01/02/2006 SOUTH KOREA – NORTH KOREA – VATICAN
    The encyclical "comforts the Korean Church, forced into silence in the North"

    Msgr. Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, Archbishop of  Seoul and Apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, tells AsiaNews: "The Pope was thinking of Asia when he wrote Deus caritas est, because  the people of Asia need to learn how to distinguish the different faces of Love".





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