04/26/2006, 00.00
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Catholic delegation goes north for first time ever

This is the first time the group of 61 people, lay and priests, visits the structures it funded over the past 11 years. For many analysts, the visit "raises hopes for an agreement allowing more religious freedom in the country".

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The Archdiocese of Seoul has sent the first-ever official Catholic delegation to North Korea. The group is composed of 61 people, lay and priests, led by Mgr. Thomas Aquinas Choi Chang-hwa, the director of the National Reconciliation Committee, established in 1995 to "deliver God's love to our North Korean brethren." The group left today, 26 April, and will be back on 29.

Over the past 11 years, the committee has provided nearly 11 million US dollars in goods and services to the northern part of the peninsular, but this is the first time its members have been allowed to cross the border. Many sources have said the visit has "raised hopes about an agreement allowing more religious freedom in the country", ruled by a Stalinist regime and held by many to be an "an open air gulag".

The delegation is scheduled to inspect conditions in health facilities it funded and to visit a food factory and a grain mill built with aid from Changchung – the only Catholic church in Pyongyang.

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