10/10/2018, 12.57
KOREA - VATICAN
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The 'religious breakthrough' of Kim Jong-un and religious persecution

by Joseph Yun Li-sun

The North Korean dictator reportedly bowed to the president of the Southern Korean Bishops' Conference, who had told him he wanted to inform the Vatican about his efforts for peace. The invitation to the Pope and the "warm welcome" announced by Pyongyang clash with the total repression carried out in North Korea against religious sentiment since the 1950s.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Kim Jong-un "is ready to warmly welcome Pope Francis, should he visit Pyongyang". The same North Korean dictator reportedly said as much himself during the historic September summit in North Korea with Moon Jae-in, president of the South. Moon will formally present Kim's invitation to Francis during his visit to Rome and in the Vatican, scheduled for October 17 and 18 next.

During the same summit last September 20, the North Korean leader spoke with the president of the South Korean Bishops' Conference, Msgr. Igino Kim Kim Hee-joong (see photo). The prelate told his host that he would inform the Vatican about peace efforts in Korea, and Kim reportedly responded "Tell him, please" bowing.

The religious turn of the "Young Marshal", the unofficial title of the dictator of the North, clashes with the politics of his father and his grandfather (Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung), who have ferociously uprooted every form of religiosity in the Stalinist country.

In North Korea only the cult of the late leader Kim Jong-Il and his father Kim Il-Sung is allowed. The regime has always tried to impede religious presence, especially of Buddhists and Christians, and requires the faithful to register in organizations controlled by the Party.

There have been frequent brutal and violent persecutions of non-attached faithful and of those who practice missionary activity. Since the communist regime was established in 1953, about 300 thousand Christians have disappeared and there are no more priests and nuns killed during the persecutions. Sadly infamous are the " death marches ", very long journeys on foot imposed by the regime on the faithful of every religion, in which the last North Korean religious died.

In North Korea there are 51 social categories, decided by the state: those who practice a faith not controlled by the government are given in the last places, with fewer opportunities for education and work, they do not receive food subsidies and are constantly victims of brutal violence.

Pyongyang declares that religious freedom is present in the country and guaranteed by the Constitution: official government figures speak of about 10 thousand Buddhists, 10 thousand Protestants and 4 thousand Catholics. The government estimates refer only to the faithful registered in the recognized associations. In Pyongyang, three churches, two Protestants and one Catholic were built in the 1980s. In 2006, thanks to the good offices of the Russian embassy in North Korea, the regime allowed the construction of an Orthodox church.

In these churches, according to some witnesses who have been able to visit them, only propaganda is made to the regime: within them "priests" operate who compare the "Dear leader" Kim Jong-Il to a demigod. No priest works in the only Catholic church, where there is only a collective prayer that takes place once a week.

It is in no way possible to confirm or not the presence of Christians in the country. The South Korean Catholic Church believes that there are still some - quantifiable in hundreds of people - who live their faith in a clandestine manner. What is certain that, prior to the establishment of the Stalinist regime, the North had a very high percentage of Christians (almost 30% of the capital's population) to the point that Pyongyang was called "the Jerusalem of Asia".

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