ASIA/NORTH KOREA - New Vicar Episcopal appointed for Catholic diocese of Pyongyang: hopes for new springtime of the Church in North Korea

Tuesday, 6 July 2004

Pyongyang (Fides Service) - Even at difficult times the Church in south Korea has never lost hope of starting once again to evangelise in north Korea and help the faith to flourish. Today these hopes are closer to coming true since Archbishop of Seoul Archbishop Nicholas Cheong, apostolic administrator of the diocese of Pyongyang, appointed Rev. Matthew Hwang in-kuk Episcopal Vicar for Pyongyang.
“We hope this appointment will open a new chapter in the history of the Church in Korea and encourage reconciliation and unification of the Koran peninsula ” the local Church said
With this appointment, Mgr. Hwang is to be endowed with an important role for the restoration of the Church in North Korea and the effort of the Catholic Church in Korea for the reconciliation of Korean people seems to gain momentum, in particular in the field of formation of agents for this purpose.
Before the announcement of this appointment, Archbishop Cheong, on the same day, hold the first official meeting of priests from the Diocese of Pyongyang. Ten priests attended the meeting and reached a consensus on the need to prepare for the time of unification of Korea. At the meeting, Bishop Cheong expressed strong will for the reconciliation and unity of the Korean people, saying, "Concrete effort for the restoration of the Church in North Korea cannot be delayed any longer."
A timid re-flourishing of the Church in north Korea began in 1989, when the Catholic religion was recognised with the institution of the North Korean Catholic Association modelled on its Chinese counterpart under government control.
Today North Korean Catholics live the faith in the family context, praying at home with occasional visits by the Catholic Association.
In the meantime the Church in S. Korea would like to have news of Bishop Francis Hong Yong-ho, Bishop Pyongyang in 1962, and about 50 priests who were known to be in the north in the 1940s. Today they should be 80 or 90 years old if they survived persecution.
Now and then representatives of the Church in south Korea visit the north to celebrate Mass. In 1998 the auxiliary bishop of Seoul made a historic visit to the north. Delegations from the Holy See and Caritas Internationalis have been allowed to visit the country. Caritas Hong Kong, one of the first aid agencies to start programmes to help the people of North Korea in the early 1990s, is still actively committed in this field.
According to the Church in the south, in North Korea there are about 3,000 Catholics and only Catholic church, which is in Pyongyang. Sources say there are also about 12,000 Christians of other confessions, some pastors and two churches in the capital. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 6/7/2004 lines 42 words 434)