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Yeonpyeong-do Island attacked by North Korea’s artillery fire (Photo courtesy of Ongjin-gun county)

North Korea artillery attack damages church

John Choi, Seoul

November 24 2010

North Korea's fatal artillery attack has damaged the only Catholic Church on Yeonpyeong-do Island.

All Catholics including Father Joseph Kim Tae-heon, the parish priest, are safe as they evacuated to a bomb shelter as soon as the island came under North Korean shelling on Nov. 23.

While 80 percent of the residents have since left, the parish priest has opted to stay on the island with those remaining.

Two shells fell on the church premises. Windows of the main church building were damaged. The old rectory was partly demolished and a van was destroyed, said Father Johannes Kim Yong-hwan, chancellor of Incheon diocese.

The tiny South Korean island near the maritime border with North Korea on the Yellow Sea has one Catholic Church. There are about 450 Catholics among the 1,700 local residents.

According to South Korea military, the Nov. 23 surprise attack killed two marines and two civilians and injured 13 marines and three civilians.

South Korean officials reported that the North fired 200 artillery shells onto Yeonpyeong-do Island setting more than 60 buildings ablaze. The South returned fire with about 80 artillery rounds.

The clash brought the North and South - technically still at war since the Korean armistice in 1953 - effectively undid recent tentative steps to renew ties. These have seen the South help the North with food aid and families united after living on opposite sides of the border since the Korean War.

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Church condemns North Korea's artillery fire