Newsletter of the District of Asia

 Jan-Jun 2001

A Quick Look at North Korea

Population: 21,400,000

Catholics: a few thousands only, with no bishop, no priest, no brother, no sister.

In its edition of March 1, 2001, the French periodical Eglises d’Asie, made known a report given to the United Nation by the North Korean Authorities, last May 2000, and rendered public by the UN only last February 2001.  This report is the first one since 1950 to address the issue of religions in North Korea.  Beside speaking of associations for the Buddhists and the Protestants, it mentions for the first time the existence of a Korean Association of Roman Catholics.  No statistics however were given on the number of faithful and their places of worship.

Desirous to show that North Koreans do enjoy religious freedom, the authorities of North Korea have informed the U.N. that 10 religious books have recently been published, four of which were for the Catholics. 

There is no mention in the report of Catholic schools although it is said that “the Central Committee of the Korean Association of Roman Catholics also gives instruction to its students”.

As one could expect, the report makes no mention of any missionary activity in the country.  Under the heading “Prohibition of warlike propaganda”, one can read that “all citizens and all foreigners legally residing in North Korea” share the same rights, whatever their nationality, race or religion.  It is also specified that any disorder for violent, hostile or discriminatory action done for a national, racial or religious motive is considered as a violation of this equality of rights.

The introduction of this report recalls that the Constitution guarantees to every citizen religious liberty and the right to build whatever equipment needed for the practice of one’s religion.  In fact, since the end of the 1980s, a Catholic church and two Protestant temples are visible in Pyongyang.  However according to relations of the rare visitors allowed in these building, the Catholic church is without a priest whilst the Protestant temple has two pastors.  According to some rare testimonies of North Korean faithful, there should be small and scattered communities throughout the country, but they are persecuted by the authorities.

EDA, no.326, March 1, 2001, pp.6-7.

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