Pyongyang was once referred to as the “Jerusalem of the East” and was considered a center of Christianity in Northeast Asia.
Just before the Korean War broke out in 1950, many priests in North Korea were captured, killed, or disappeared, according to the Korean Bishops’ Conference.
In 1988, the “Korean Catholic Association,” created by the communist government, registered 800 members. This association is not recognized by the Vatican, but is one of three state-sponsored churches that operate in North Korea under the strict supervision of the communist authorities.
Mass is occasionally offered in Pyongyang’s Changchung Cathedral when a foreign priest is on an official visit to the country. But on Sundays, a Liturgy of the Word is often celebrated instead by a state-appointed layperson. The Catholic See of Pyongyang is vacant and the last bishop was appointed in March 1944. There are no local Catholic clerics in North Korea.
Despite the lack of religious freedom inside North Korean, defectors have discovered the Catholic faith after fleeing the hermit kingdom.
“If the pope goes there he will make a gigantic step, a qualitative step for the Korean peninsula,” Archbishop You said in 2018.
“But before you do something you have to do the groundwork. When the groundwork is done, the pope can go,” he told journalists.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.