Solidifying North Korea’s already dominant position as the more comically entertaining of the two Koreas, Pyongyang reacted to speculation that the three short-range rockets fired off the east coast before Francis’s arrival and the two launched shortly after were in reaction to the Pope’s visit:
“We don’t know and in fact have no interest at all in why he is traveling to South Korea and what he is going to plot with the South Korean puppets,” Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim In-yong, a North Korean rocket scientist, as saying in reference to the pope.
The real question, the report quoted Mr. Kim as saying, was: “Why of all the days of the year, as numerous as the hairs of a cow, did the pope choose to come to the South on the very day we had planned to test our rockets?”
Reading between the lines, I see that North Korea has developed, to what diabolical end I do not know, a strain of nearly hairless cow with precisely 365 hairs in most years. I will continue to monitor North Korean media for references to Kim In-yong or infer in lack thereof that Mr. Kim and his kin got sent to gulags for letting slip state secrets in South Korea’s most widely read English-language blog dealing with Korea-related topics.
Surprisingly (certainly to me), the Catholic Church does have a presence in North Korea. Known as the “silent church”, Pyongyang has sanctioned one Catholic church, which has no official ties to the Vatican and is led by an itinerant South Korean Father John Park who has traveled to Pyongyang once a year since 2000 to celebrate mass. The State maintains strict controls, and I doubt that Father Park administers the sacrament of confession: “a confidential one-on-one conversation between a South Korean — even if that person is a priest — and a North Korean is impossible and both could be accused of espionage.” North Korea has not a single priest residing in the country. The United States claims North Korea’s few state-run churches exist only for the appearance of religious freedom.
As for numbers, the United Nations estimates about 800 Catholics in North Korea while North Korea’s state-run Korean Catholic Association asserts about 3,000 “registered Catholics.” I wonder the reason for the North’s higher number, especially given that the regime is officially atheist.
Members of North Korea’s religious groups and the groups themselves are often criticized as being fake. Here’s MH favorite Andrei Lankov’s take:
“The North Korean government is tolerant of a small controlled religious presence within the country or is willing to fake such presence,” said Andrei Lankov, an associate professor in social sciences at Kookmin University in South Korea.
“Even if some members are true believers, they are selected by the government. The police authorities, the secret police, is checking your background,” he said.
North Korea’s constitution does allow its people to practice religion. However, in the same constitution, it also says it won’t allow it to be “used for drawing in foreign forces or for harming the State or social order.”
Dr. Lankov concluded, “from their (North Korea’s) point of view, it is a very real threat. Right now, Christianity seems to be their most dangerous ideological challenge to the existing regime.”
I would like to ask him whether Christianity in general or Catholicism specifically is the threat. We have seen in our lifetimes the irresistible political force, even to the Soviet Union and a well-backed Communist state and party, that the Catholic Church and pope can be. I wonder could the next pope be Asian or even Korean?
For the Pope’s final mass on Monday for “peace and reconciliation for the Korean peninsula”, Vatican representatives had invited North Korea to send a delegation. North Korea rejected the invitation. The state-run Korean Catholics Association cited the annual joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces as the reason for rejection. Apparently as fervently as they might feel about the Pope, North Korean Catholics feel even more so about the annual joint military exercises.