PYONGYANG, North Korea, JULY 7, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The appointment of a new episcopal vicar for Pyongyang by the diocese’s South Korea-based apostolic administrator is seen as a historic step.
Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, who is also apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, named Father Matthew Hwang in-kuk the episcopal vicar for the diocese corresponding to the North Korean capital.
The Holy See’s missionary agency Fides says the appointment gives new strength and hope to “the Church in South Korea to be able to evangelize again and make the faith flower in North Korea,” which “has never been extinguished, not even in difficult times.”
Ever since the Communist regime expelled the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the archbishop of Seoul has also had to be the apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, a role which until now, in fact, he has been unable to carry out, given that the North Korean diocese is deprived, at least officially, of priests, said the Italian newspaper Avvenire.
Yet, Christianity has survived in North Korea, where Catholics live the faith in a family context, receiving periodic visits from representatives of Catholic Action. Estimates say there are 3,000 faithful in North Korea.
Since 1989 the Communist regime has tried to apply the Chinese model of the state-controlled “patriotic association,” establishing the North Korean Catholic Association.
The decision to appoint Father Hwang vicar for Pyongyang was communicated by the South Korean episcopal conference and was preceded in Seoul by the meeting of Archbishop Cheong with 10 South Korean priests who expressed their willingness to work in the North’s diocese.
“Concrete efforts to make the Church grow in North Korea cannot be postponed any longer,” Archbishop Cheong said.
The archbishop hopes that Father Hwang will have “greater freedom of movements to be able to work, especially in the area of formation.”
Over the last years the Church in Korea, together with Caritas-Hong Kong and the U.S.-based Eugene Bell Foundation, has promoted numerous humanitarian missions beyond the 38th parallel.
The missions have enable some priests to travel to the country’s interior. In 1998 it was possible to organize a visit to North Korea by Seoul’s auxiliary bishop. Delegations of the Holy See and Caritas International have also been able to visit.
Foreign priests passing through the country have been allowed to celebrate Sunday Mass in Pyongyang’s only Catholic church.
The Church in South Korea has requested news on the fate of Bishop Francis Hong Yong-ho, the last prelate of Pyongyang, and of the close to 50 priests who were in the North in the 1940s. Survivors would be in their 80s or 90s.