2000-05-29 00:00:00

The only Protestant seminary in North Korea will be reopened in September with financial support from the Methodist Church in South Korea.

The South Korean government recently approved an application made in April last year by the Korean Methodist Church (KMC) to participate in the reopening of the Pyongyang Theological Seminary.

The seminary was established by the North Korean Christian Federation in 1972 but closed in 1995 due to financial difficulties. It is located in the federation´s building in Pyongyang.

The Methodist Church will provide US$600,000 to run the seminary for over three years and will "take part in its management including giving consultation," according to a Methodist Church official.

The North Korean Christian Federation, however, will select seminarians and the education syllabus.

Six South Korean Church officials will visit Pyongyang every semester to discuss the management of the seminary, the official said.

"Through our assistance, we hope to promote Christianity in North Korea," Reverend Eun Hi-gon, general secretary of the KMC Seobu (western) Annual Conference, told UCA News May 24.

Reverend Eun´s conference is also responsible for KMC efforts toward reunification and mission in North Korea.

According to the South Korean government´s Unification Ministry, it is the first "collaboration project" approved in the area of religion. In the past there have been only one-sided aid projects.

The project was approved in the hope that "continuous religious exchanges will contribute toward national reconciliation and unity," Lee Kwan-sei, spokesperson of the ministry, told UCA News May 24.

The KMC has been providing food and medical equipment aid to famine-stricken North Korea since 1994, Reverend Eun said.

He added that KMC representatives will visit North Korea in July and they are likely to reach a full agreement with their North Korean partner to reopen the seminary in September.

In North Korea, the Protestant Church has a few pastors serving two churches in Pyongyang and about 500 "home churches," where people gather to worship. The Catholic Church has one church in Pyongyang and no official priest.

In its 1972 revised Constitution, North Korea allowed people "freedom of faith" as well as "freedom for antireligious propaganda."

Before its closure the seminary produced some 60 graduates, including Reverend Kang Yong-sop, president of the North Korean Christian Federation.

He is the son of the late Reverend Kang Ryang-uk, who established the federation in the late 1940s. The late Reverend Kang was the maternal uncle of the North Korea´s late leader Kim Il-sung.


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