In October 2015, I had the
opportunity to visit the Changchung Cathedral and celebrate Mass there. I
visited it with priests of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice (CPAJ)
of South Korea, which was organized informally to foster peace and justice in
the 1970s during the period of the military dictatorship in the South. We met
the chairman of the Association of the North Korean Catholic Church, Kang Ji
Young (Paul), a lay believer, who had been newly appointed chairman of that
organization. We also visited several places in Pyeongyang, such as a
children’s hospital, a folk village and a horse-riding club.
The most shocking event was the celebration of
Mass in the Changchung Cathedral. Inside, there was the altar, a huge picture
of Jesus Christ and the tabernacle, but the tabernacle had been empty for 30
years. On the walls around the altar, there was a picture of the Blessed Virgin
Mary and one of St. Joseph holding the baby Jesus in his arms; and the Stations
of the Cross were hung around the church walls. The people who attended the
Mass were mostly baptized by the leader of the Cathedral because there were no priests. They
attended the Mass, sang hymns sincerely, and received Holy Communion devotedly.
What I thought was unique was that they did not wear the obligatory badge of
Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jung-Il during the Liturgy. This is unacceptable in North
Korean society. If they do not wear that badge, they go to jail. But the North
Korean authorities have given permission not to wear it while they are in the Cathedral.
This is evidence that the authorities have some recognition of the autonomy and
unique status of religion.