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N Korean refugees pray for peace at Christmas event

Communist regime in North Korea is ranked as one of the world's worst violators of religious freedom
In this file photo, South Korean volunteers in Santa Claus outfits throw Santa hats during a ceremony before the delivery of Christmas gifts in Seoul, South Korea, on Dec 24, 2018.

In this file photo, South Korean volunteers in Santa Claus outfits throw Santa hats during a ceremony before the delivery of Christmas gifts in Seoul, South Korea, on Dec 24, 2018. (Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Published: December 20, 2023 08:24 AM GMT
Updated: December 20, 2023 12:32 PM GMT

North Korean Catholics residing in South Korea as refugees have prayed for peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula and expressed their desire to reunite with their family members during a pre-Christmas program.

The program in the national capital Seoul included a Holy Mass arranged by the Committee for Korean Reconciliation of the Archdiocese of Seoul, the Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation (CBCP) reported on Dec. 18.

An unnamed refugee also prayed for more religious freedom in his home country.

"Please open the way for hidden believers who are trying to maintain their faith in North Korea to live a free religious life as soon as possible," said the refugee in a prayer during the Holy Mass.

The committee’s vice-chairman Father Jeong Soo-young, celebrated the Mass with other priests and laity from the archdiocese in the presence of refugees and their children from shelter homes run by the archdiocese.

A children's choir performed Christmas carols and received gifts from a volunteer dressed as Santa Claus. A magic show followed, and Christmas cards were exchanged.

Jeong urged the refugees not to give up hope despite the challenges they face and pray for the well being of their loved ones “back home” whom they expect to meet again in the future.

Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick of Seoul visited and greeted the refugees after the Mass. He also joined them for dinner.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USIRF) ranks Communist North Korea among the world’s worst violators of religious freedom or beliefs.  

The North Korean government “reportedly continues to execute, torture, arrest, and physically abuse individuals for their religious activities,” the commission said in its latest report.

Some 50,000-70,000 Christians are imprisoned in North Korea, according to a US-based Christian rights group Open Doors.

North Korean Christians’ experience of persecution is “violent and intense” and “life for Christians … is a constant cauldron of pressure; capture or death,” Radio Free Asia reported referring to an Open Doors report.

The Joseon dynasty ruled Korea from 1392 to 1887 until the Japanese occupation. Despite brutal persecution from the Joseon rulers, Christianity spread and thrived in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The end of Japan’s colonial rule in 1945 following its defeat in World War II, saw Korea split in two. A communist regime took over the North under Soviet influence, and the democratic South sided with the West.

The Korean War (1950-53) was a result of disagreements over unification. The communist forces invaded the South, leaving about four million dead and some 10 million displaced.

Christians in North Korea faced brutal persecution unleashed by the communists who branded them as collaborators of US-led Western powers.

Churches were destroyed and Christians were tortured and killed, forcing most Christians to flee to the South.

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