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Korean Catholics run marathon to protect their ‘Sunrise Church’

Construction of high-rise apartments near Our Lady of Fatima Church in Sokcho City threatens its beauty and heritage
Our Lady of Fatima Church at Sokcho City of South Korea was built during the Korean War about seven decades ago.

Our Lady of Fatima Church at Sokcho City of South Korea was built during the Korean War about seven decades ago. (Photo: CBPC)

Published: November 08, 2023 07:33 AM GMT
Updated: November 08, 2023 09:30 AM GMT

A group of Catholics in South Korea, led by their parish priest, have run a marathon to oppose the construction of high-rise buildings that threatens 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 about seven decades ago.

Besides its significance as a historical religious worship place, the church is a popular tourist destination where many flock to view the sunrise over the sea. Thus, the church is popularly called “the Sunrise Cathedral.”

“I wanted to convey the will and earnestness of God’s people in Dongmyeong-dong parish in Sokcho,” said Father Lee Ki-beom, the parish priest.

“The Chosun Ilbo Chuncheon Marathon” on Oct. 29 sought to draw the attention of the authorities to protect the church from the construction boom that is allegedly endangering its beauty and heritage, the Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation (CPBC) reported on Nov. 8.  

“I ran while praying earnestly that the cathedral, which boasts the best view among all cathedrals in the country, could be preserved in its original state,” Lee said.

“I wanted to convey a message to the spectators as if they were crossing a river and facing difficulties,” he added.

Lee lamented that if construction of high-rise apartments around the church is not halted, it will have a negative impact on the future of the parish.

Once the high-rise buildings are completed, they will completely block the sunlight and beautiful view of the cathedral, which attracts many visitors.

A blocked cathedral would be “a betrayal” by those responsible for protecting the important heritage.

To oppose the construction boom, the parish has been doing everything it can to protect the cathedral by collecting signatures and offering daily prayers. 

Recently, the authorities declared the church would be registered as a national cultural property, which would allow it to be preserved as a national heritage site.

Lee was skeptical that recognition as a cultural property would suffice to stop the construction spree.

“It is true that we can expect the effect of increasing local government interest in the cathedral thanks to the cathedral becoming a nationally registered cultural property, but the reality is that [cultural property registration] has no effect on surrounding redevelopment under the current law,” he said.

“Currently, the pace of redevelopment has slowed down, but we don’t know when the situation will change, so the entire parish is raising its voice against it.”

The parish is in the process of enlisting 144,000 benefactors across the country to secure funds to prevent further construction around the church, the priest said.

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 blocked by high-rise buildings, the CPBC reported in January.

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

The mayor of Sokcho reportedly said the community center will not be relocated. Reportedly, most of the buildings near the community center have already been demolished.

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