ICC Note: Reporter from La Croix was given a rare opportunity to visit a Catholic church in North Korea. Located in the heart of Pyongyang and built in 1988, The Changchung Catholic Church hosts around 200 members every Sunday morning. The Catholic Church hardly resembles any normal Catholic traditions and the church has no priests, bishop, or baptism. Kim Chol-Un who presides over the church explains that the Church members have inherited their baptism and membership rights from their Catholic ancestors. People who are not baptized are not allowed to attend the Church. The existence of this church is Kim’s attempt to show that religious freedom exists in the country.
11/3/2017 North Korea (La Croix International) – The Toyota four-wheel-drive goes into the yard and the Church appears, sober, dark brown and white. The front façade has a small rosette and a rectangular window with a cross on top of it. Two officials in the classic dark suits are waiting.
The day before, in response to my request, my guide and chaperone, Mr. Pal, had phoned his assistant to organize the visit to the Changchung Catholic Church in North Korea, located in the heart of Pyongyang and built in 1988.
I’d already visited dozens of churches in China in recent years, but this was my first look at the only Catholic Church in North Korea. Mr. Pal confessed to me that he, too, had never been there before.
After quick greetings, Kim Chol-Un, President of the Association of Catholics of Korea, introduces himself, insisting on his Christian first name: “Francis, like the Pope.” Association Vice-president Cha Julio, who is younger, opens the Church door. “Please,” he says, inviting us in.
Wide, unpainted windows let in the light, which illuminates the nave, the two pews with about a dozen seats each, the way of the cross on either side and two paintings of Mary and Joseph. The choir remains in the shadow, illuminated by the candle of the Blessed Sacrament, near the tabernacle.
Here, “150 to 200 people come to pray for forty minutes every Sunday morning,” Francis says.
“We have a ritual ceremony on Sundays. On the other hand, no-one comes during the week. You should come on Sunday to meet them,” he adds.
Kim Chol-Un explains that he “presides over” the prayer. But who are the faithful?
“They are the far-off descendants of Catholics, and all of them are now over 60 years old,” he says.