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ICC Note: The Vatican estimates that as many as 10,000 Catholics continue to reside and practice their faith in strict secrecy within North Korea. Christianity has been persecuted and outlawed in North Korea for more than half a centure, but Before the division of Korea into North and South in 1945 the capitol of the North, Pyongyang, was known as the “Jerusalem of the East” thanks to the active Christian and missionary community in the city. Today as many as 70,000 Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, are estimated to be imprisoned in one of six North Korean labor camps spread around the country. 
6/13/2013 North Korea (UCA News) – “We suspect that after the long period of persecution there are still about 10,000 people who will remember in their hearts their Catholic faith.” But “I find it difficult to believe that there is an organised underground Church in North Korea,” Fr. Lee Eun-hyung, the General Secretary of the Catholic “Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People”, said in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (the foundation that supports pastoral action in areas where Catholics suffer persecution).
During the interview, Fr. Eun-hyung described the tragic conditions the North Korean population is living in and spoke about his travels, the last being a visit to the capital of North Korea in 2011. “On each visit I celebrated Holy Mass in the Catholic church of “Jangchung”, named after the city district where it is located. North Korean believers attended. Nevertheless the North Korean authorities told me it was strictly forbidden for me and those working with me to contact the country’s citizens personally.” Fr. Eun-hyung explained that the church of Jangchung was unique in that its faithful were led by a layman who celebrated the Liturgy of the Word every Sunday.” This must be true because “as far as I know” he said “there are no Catholic priests living in North Korea at present.”
When asked how many Catholics remained in North Korea, Fr. Eun-hyung said “It’s difficult to say.” “The North Korean authorities told us that there are 3,000 Catholics in the country. But we don’t know whether this figure is correct, or how it was arrived at.” The last time any accurate figures were obtained was back in 1945, when Koreas was divided in two. “There are old documents which show that there were about 50,000 Catholics living in the north before the division of the country.” “A very lively missionary work went out from here. The mother of the dictator Kim Il-sung (1948-1994), for example, came from a very pious Protestant family,” the priest said. There were also many Christians churches around at the time but almost all of these –except the church of Jangchung – were destroyed during the war of 1950-53 or used for other purposes under the regime.
Today, North Korea is one of the biggest culprits of religious freedom deprivation, but despite the years of religious persecution, Fr. Eun-hyung believes “there are still about 10,000 people who will remember in their hearts their Catholic faith.” This seems to be confirmed by the testimonies of a number of North Korean refugees, who speak of elderly women setting in circles counting beans and murmuring, as if they were reciting the Rosary. But the priest claims it is unlikely an underground church exists in North Korea, although some say there is one close to the border with China.

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