delegation, made up of lay people and clergy, will inspect how the more
than $10 million it has sent to North Korea for humanitarian aid has
is being led by Mgr. Thomas Aquinas Choi Chang-hwa, director of the
National Reconciliation Committee, established in 1995 to “deliver
God’s love to our North Korean brethren.”
have said the visit has “raised hopes about an agreement allowing more
religious freedom in the country”, ruled by a Stalinist regime and held
by many to be an “an open air gulag.”
is scheduled to inspect conditions in health facilities it funded and
to visit a food factory and a grain mill built with aid from Changchung
– the only Catholic church in Pyongyang.
The visit comes
after Pope Benedict recently installed a second cardinal for South
Korea earlier this year. Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk is interested
in rebuilding the Church in the communist country and having a priest
also heads the Roman Catholic diocese in the capital of North Korea,
although it is mostly a symbolic title since there are no practicing
Catholic priests allowed in the country.
The two Koreas
have been divided for more than 60 years. South Korea estimates there
are about 3,000 Catholics in North Korea and about 12,000 Protestants,
while in the South there are about 4.5 million Catholics.
Archdiocese of Seoul sent its first-ever official Catholic delegation
to North Korea Wednesday; this is the first time its members have been
allowed to cross the border into the communist north. The group left
for its three-day trip on April 26.