North Korea may be opening up as Catholic leaders pledge yearly visits

Under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, North Korea is widely considered to be the worst country in which to be a Christian.Reuters

South Korean Catholic Bishops will begin making annual trips to North Korea, it was said on Monday, following a landmark four day trip across the border.

According to the Korea Times, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK) said yearly services will be held at Changchung Cathedral in Pyongyang on major Catholic feasts.

The cathedral is the only Catholic church in the whole of North Korea, which operates under a Communist dictatorship led by Kim Jong Un.

It is widely considered to be the worst country in which to be a Christian, and the government maintains absolute control through the systematic repression of its citizens. However, there have been signs that it could be opening up. In October, 12 South Korean priests celebrated mass in Pyongyang; the first visit by a Catholic delegation since 2008.

The latest visit saw 17 representatives from the Catholic Church in South Korea, including president of the CBCK Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong, travel to the North upon the invitation of the State-run Catholic University of Korea.

According to Fides news agency, talks were held about the possible construction of a church in Pyongyang.

The Church in South Korea is reportedly hoping to play a significant role in reconciliation efforts between the two Koreas, which split in the wake of World War II.

Father Timothy Lee Eun-hyung, secretary of the Bishops' Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People, told Fides: "We need to consolidate this platform of reconciliation intensifying exchanges and collaborations. Today's Koreans can focus on the future. But now, young people risk becoming indifferent to a past they did not experience first hand and there is a risk of a growing indifference towards the desire to reunite the Korean people.

"We need to set aside aggressive attitudes, and walk the path of inclusion, forgiveness and reconciliation, which also Pope Francis mentioned when he came to Korea."