05/12/2007, 00.00
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Religious delegation goes north; no mass for Catholics

The Korean Conference on Religion and Peace, composed of Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Confucians, managed to go to Pyongyang to mark the 10th anniversary of partnership with the North Korean government’s Council of Religionists. As instructed by the Vatican, the Catholics did not celebrate Mass.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – A South Korean inter-faith delegation has managed to visit Pyongyang, where it met the North Korean government’s Council of Religionists for an “exchange of views” about the reunification of the peninsula. Despite the “inter-confessional” aim of the visit, the Catholic members of the delegation did not celebrate Mass.

The meeting was held over three days, from 5 to 8 May, and was organized to celebrate the 10th anniversary of partnership between the two organizations.  South Korean participants included Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Confucians, who together make up the Korean Conference on Religion and Peace.

The entire delegation from the south, made up of 42 members, visited the Russian-Orthodox monastery of Jongbaek, in the capital, which was completed on 13 August 2006. Two North Korean Orthodox priests who studied and were ordained in Russia live in this monastery.

Protestant members held a service at Chilgol Church, while Buddhists visited Kwangbopsa Temple. Catholics, however, did not celebrate Mass, because the Holy See has more than once dissuaded priests who manage to enter North Korea from celebrating the liturgy. The risk is that of drawing non-Catholics to the sacraments.

Further, the Vatican has always discouraged a visit by leaders of the Association of North Korean Catholics to Rome, given that serious doubts remain about their juridical and canonical status. In fact, there are suspicions that these are no more than party members, not even Catholics. The organization was created and is run by the regime, and continues to insist that it is the official interlocutor for local Catholics, who number no more than 800, according to non-governmental estimates.

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