Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Dreaming about the Changchung Cathedral

In March 1984, according to an article in the Catholic Peace Weekly a Canadian was the first Korean priest to visit North Korea after the division of the country. The following September Bishop Tji Hak-soun of the Wonju Diocese, a member of a group visiting relatives in the north, said  Mass in the Pyongyang Koryo Hotel. This was the first time for a South Korean to say Mass in the North. In June of 1987 Fr. Chang-ik representing a delegation from the Vatican met some of the Catholics of the North.

At that time a church building committee was formed to build a church in the Pyongyang area. In March 1988 the construction of the cathedral began and on Oct 9th the Changchung church was completed. In June during the building of the church, the Korean Catholic Association was established. On Oct. 12, the first prayer meeting was held and Fr. Chang-ik and Fr. Chong on Oct. 30, and on All Saints Day said the first Masses as delegates of the Vatican in the new cathedral.

After that many Korean priests from other countries said Masses in the new church. In April of 1996 on  Easter Sunday, Mass was said for peaceful unification and reconciliation of the nation in both Myeongdong, Seoul and the Changchung church of North Korea. The atmosphere for reconciliation blossomed with the beginning of the 'People's Government' in 1998.

On May 15, 1998, Bishop Choi chairman of the committee for National Reconciliation with 4 delegates visited the North. Two days later the bishop said Mass in the Changchung church. This can be considered the first Catholic pastoral visit of the South to the North. According to one of the monthly magazines, there are about 3000 Catholics in the North as of 2004, but some estimate it to be closer to 10,000 secret believers.

No priests have resided in the North since the Korean War and the division of the country. Every Sunday believers gather at the cathedral and have a mission station service which is conducted by the leaders of the community. Catholic foreign diplomats, foreign workers, and students staying in Pyeongyang often come to the church.The Changchung church has played a role in connecting the believers in the North with the South Korean Catholic Church, the Holy See and the Catholic churches abroad. This is the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Changchung Church.

Efforts to send a priest to the Changchung Church was initiated by the bishops of South Korea in 2015. An  agreement was finalized to send a priest for the big feast days of the calendar but because of the political situation, not getting any better, it was never implemented.

In 2014 in Myeondong Cathedral, Pope Francis prayed: "May new opportunities for dialogue, and meetings to overcome the differences spring up. Let us pray that all Koreans who are all brother and sisters, members of the same family have the same perception of being one nation become widespread." 

New opportunities have arisen since the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. North and South Korea are taking steps to resolve the problems separating the country. On April 27, the North-South summit was held and soon the North and American summit will take place. Is it too early to dream of a Mass of Peace and Reconciliation that the pope will deliver at the Changchung Cathedral? Dreaming alone is just a dream, but the dreams that everyone dreams bear fruit.

No comments:

Post a Comment