An American organization monitoring persecution of Christians worldwide has released a report claiming a complete denial of religious freedom in North Korea.
The report, “World Watch List 2013”, released by “Open Doors,” ranked the Asian nation first on a list of countries where freedom of worship is denied, stating it is the world’s most hostile nation towards Christians.
There are currently estimated to be between 100,000 and 400,000 Christians in North Korea and, despite the danger of being arrested or put to death, they seek to share the Gospel in so-called “house churches” that are “underground communities,” according to “Open Doors.”
According to the Christian NGO “318 Mission Partner” (which refers to 318 fellow warriors of Abraham in the Bible), there seems to be over 10,000 underground churches in North Korea.
Amnesty International says more than 200,000 political prisoners and dissidents have been detained for reasons of conscience in North Korea’s notorious “prison camps”.
Today, only one church officially exists in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, where South Korean priests, on rare visits, sometimes celebrate Mass in front of an assembly selected by local authorities.
In the early 1900s, Pyongyang was called the “Jerusalem of the East” as Christianity had taken root there, and the country had more than 3,000 churches. The persecution of Christians began when Japan took control of the Korean peninsula in 1910. It worsened after World War II with the rise to power of the communist regime of Kim Il -Sung. The persecution continued under his son Kim Jong-Il and, today, with Kim Jong-Un.
The South Korean Catholic Church is unsure of the exact figures as the country is so secretive. It notes that underground church figures of this magnitude seem very high, given the strict security conditions and network control of the military.
In light of a South Korean Cardinal’s visit to North Korea this week, the difference in religious freedoms between North and South Korea comes into sharp focus.
Cardinal Yeom’s Kaesong visited North Korea Wednesday, becoming the first ever South Korean cardinal to enter North Korea. The cardinal went to the joint North-South factory park at Kaesong, North Korea, to meet South Koreans working there and toured the complex, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-jin said.
South Korean Church officials denied media speculation that the cardinal’s trip might be aimed at preparing for a possible visit by Pope Francis to North Korea when he visits South Korea Aug. 14-18.
The Pope is visiting to participate in a Catholic youth festival and preside over a beatification ceremony for 124 Korean martyrs. (D.C.L.)