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South Korean dioceses to train priests for North

As priestly formation takes long time, we should do it right now in preparation for reunification, says bishop

South Korean dioceses to train priests for North

A Catholic priest stands beside an altar in Yakhyeon Catheral in Seoul, in this file photo. Two Korean dioceses are to train priests to work in North Korea in the eventuality of a reunification between North and South Korea. (Photo by AFP) reporter, Seoul
South Korea

May 20, 2016

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Two Korean dioceses have begun a formal agreement to train priests and seminarians for North Korea in the eventuality of a reunification of the Korean peninsular.

Hamhung Diocese and Chunchon Diocese recently signed an agreement to select its own seminarians and train them as its priests for future pastoral services in North Korea.

Both these dioceses are part of Seoul Archdiocese but Hamhung Diocese on paper only exists in North Korea. The diocese covers most parts of South and North Hamkyeong Provinces in North Korea. Its apostolic administrator is Bishop Lucas Kim Woon-hoe of Chunchon.

Hamhung Diocese at one time had trained its own priests with six of them currently serving in South Korea’s Pusan Diocese and one in Incheon Diocese, also in South Korea.

However, since 2000, Hamhung Diocese stopped its priestly formation program due to a lack of seminarians.

Now, Hamhung Diocese will accept seminarians from other dioceses and their formation program will be conducted by the Vocation Department of Chunchon Diocese.

"Hamhung Diocese stopped its operation for more than 70 years [but] we need priests dedicated to the diocese," said Bishop Kim.

"As priestly formation takes a long time, we should do it right now in preparation for reunification," he said.

According to the agreement, the seminarians for Hamhung Diocese will undergo academic courses together with seminarians from Chunchon Diocese.

They will be ordained deacon and priest for Chunchon but will be identified as diocesan priests for Hamhung and return to work there once its operation is resumed after or even before reunification.

Hamhung Diocese was established as an apostolic vicariate in 1940 and became a diocese in 1962, when the hierarchy of the Korean Catholic Church was instituted. 

However, as Communist North Korea rules its territory, and with no formal Catholic presence there, it remains what Koreans describe as a "church in silence."

Hamhung is not the only diocese to train priests for future missions in its territory. Pyongyang Diocese which exists only on paper in North Korea is training priests in cooperation with Seoul Archdiocese and now has its first priest, ordained in February.

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