THE DIOCESE OF PYONGYANG, the capital city of North Korea, will be consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima. This was announced by Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, the archbishop of Seoul, South Korea on June 25, 2020, the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War—at a time when tensions on the peninsula are once again on the increase.
Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung spoke about the significance of peace and harmony for the Korean Peninsula. He commemorated the approximately three million people who died during the war that broke out on June 25, 1950, the suffering of refugees, the drama experienced by families that were torn apart, and the persecution of Christians by the North Korean regime.
The 70th anniversary of the beginning of the war has come at a particularly tense time as leaders of the North Korean regime have severed all communication channels with South Korea. On June 16, the north blew up a building in Kaesong that served as the joint liaison office for delegations of both countries.
Technically speaking, the two countries are still at war, and the regime in Pyongyang continuously threatens the development of new weapons of mass destruction. The escalation of tensions over the past few weeks has brought the possibility of a direct military confrontation ever closer.
The renewed standoff signifies a large step backwards on the path of reconciliation, a path that the two countries had been pursuing for several years and which culminated in the Panmunjom Declaration signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April 2018.
The Catholic Church has been actively supporting the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. For example, a Mass for peace is celebrated each day in South Korea; the first took place in December of last year and the last will be held on November 28.
The Korean conflict was one of the bloodiest episodes of the Cold War. The main backer of the regime in Pyongyang was China, while the United States helped the government in Seoul. An armistice ended active combat operations in 1953.
In addition to the ever-present danger of a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula, the two countries are also divided by the issue of religious freedom. According to the most recent report on the persecution of Christians, published by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in October 2019, “North Korea is widely considered the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian.” The profession of Christianity, which is seen as “Western,” is “severely punished” in the country.
According to ACN, witness statements by defectors from North Korea describe how Christians who are arrested by the regime “face torture” and many of them are “sent to camps” primarily set up for political prisoners, where they are required to perform forced labor.
According to the ACN report, “between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians could be present in these camps,” comprising about half of all prisoners held there. Christians suffer “extra-judicial killings, forced labor, torture, persecution, starvation, rape, forced abortion and sexual violence,” once they become ensnared in the expansive surveillance network of the North Korean regime.
With picture of Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung (© ACN)
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