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Construction spree endangers Korea’s ‘sunrise cathedral’

Our Lady of Fatima Church at Dongmyeong-dong in Sokcho City was built during the Korean War
High-rise buildings pose threats to historically significant Our Lady of Fatima Church at Dongmyeong-dong in Sokcho City, South Korea

High-rise buildings pose threats to historically significant Our Lady of Fatima Church at Dongmyeong-dong in Sokcho City, South Korea. (Photo: CPBC)

Published: January 06, 2023 11:38 AM GMT
Updated: January 06, 2023 12:24 PM GMT

Church officials and Catholic leaders in South Korea say plans to build some high-rise structures threaten the beauty and heritage of a historically significant Catholic Church in Chuncheon Diocese.

Our Lady of Fatima Church at Dongmyeong-dong in Sokcho City, overlooking the sea was built during the Korean War. It is a famed place not only as a religious worship place but also as a place to see the sunrise.

A number of high-rise buildings have been built in front and behind the church in recent years, and there are moves to have buildings right next to the cathedral, Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation (CPBC) reported on Jan. 5.

Catholics in the diocese have voiced concerns and urged the government to protect and preserve the attraction of the church endangered by the construction of high-rise buildings.

In the past, people could see the East Sea and Mount Seorak just by turning their heads, but now it is difficult to see the panoramic view because it is covered by high-rise buildings, CPBC reported.

A bigger problem is that attempts are being made to build high-rise apartments with over 50 floors in the Dongmyeong-dong community center, right next to the cathedral.

The mayor of Sokcho reportedly said the community center will not be relocated. CPBC reports that most of the buildings near the community center had already been demolished.

Father Lee Ki-beom, the parish priest of Dongmyeong-dong Church, expressed concerns over the development boom.

“We are praying that high-rise apartments will not be built and that the relocation of the community center will never happen, and we are asking for the conversion of business owners and the decision of Sokcho City.”

Catholics who visited the church to see the New Year's sunrise have expressed frustrations.

“We have such a beautiful church with the sea in the background. However, if an apartment like that will be built in front of this beautiful cathedral, I fear it will be gone soon,” said Clara Lee Ye-jin, a Catholic from Suwon Diocese.

Dongmyeong-dong Cathedral is the oldest stone building in Sokcho and has historical and cultural significance. The church celebrated its 70th-anniversary last year.

Sokcho City authorities pushed for the designation of Dongmyeong-dong Cathedral as a nationally registered cultural property, but the decision was postponed due to a lack of data.

Renewed efforts are in place to designate the church as a historical and cultural property.

Parish priest Father Lee said: “I am trying to re-register as a nationally registered cultural property while looking for photos and researching as much as possible, and I am preparing hard and praying.”

The priest said they are doing everything to protect the beauty and heritage of the church.

“We are doing everything we can. We have put up banners all over the church, collecting signatures, and offering daily prayers,” he said.

The priest said that the Church must be preserved because it is not just a historical landmark but an expression of the desire for peace and unification of the Korean people.

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