Memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II held in North Korean capital

By Barbara J. Fraser
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, drew about 100 mourners, according to international news reports.

Slightly more than a minute of video footage that aired in South Korea April 10 showed people praying for the pope and receiving Communion, according to UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand. The celebrant was reportedly a Korean priest who had been ordained in the United States, but he was not identified.

News reports described a choir singing to a pianist's accompaniment and women wearing white head coverings.

North Korea's state-run media announced Pope John Paul's death April 5, three days after it occurred. UCA News reported that the Korean Catholics' Association sent a condolence message to the Vatican.

The church in Pyongyang opened in 1988, after more than 1,500 churches were destroyed while Kim Il Sung ruled the country between 1948 and 1994, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"However, the absence of a priest for Roman Catholics means that Mass cannot be celebrated and most sacraments cannot be performed," the commission said in a 2004 report.

The report noted that foreign residents of North Korea have commented that religious services at the church appear to be "staged for their benefit."

According to the video that was aired, the church in Pyongyang has no priests or nuns, but lay people lead prayer services on Sundays.

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Catholics live in North Korea. Although religious activities are officially permitted, there have been reports of torture, imprisonment and execution of people attempting to practice their religion.


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