Plea for North Korean Catholics to be allowed to attend Pope's Mass

WikimediaPope Francis

The South Korean Catholic Church has issued a second request to the North Korean government to allow 10 North Korean Catholics to attend a mass next month.

Pope Francis will visit Seoul, South Korea next month, and the Church believes the presence of North Korean Catholics would be a strong, symbolic gesture.

The Vatican announced in March that the Pope would be in South Korea from August 14-18 for Asian Youth Day. While there, Pope Francis will also oversee a beatification ceremony for 124 Korean martyrs, and speak peace to the divided countries. There have not been any papal visits to Korea in over 25 years.

Catholic Bishop's Conference President Monsignor Peter Kang U-il expressed the importance of Pope Francis' apostolic trip.

"At present, not only are Catholics waiting for him, but so is Korean society as a whole," Mgr. Kang told AsiaNews at the time of the papal visit announcement. "People have a very positive feeling toward Francis. I believe this trip will do a lot of good to people, not only to our Church."

Mgr. Kang also recalled the draw towards Christianity that occurred after the late Pope Paul John Paul II's visits in 1984 and 1989.

"Many people converted, and many others became interested in the faith, motivated by the words of the missionary pope," he said. "This time, we expect the same thing."

The increase in Christians after a papal visit may be part of the reason that North Korea did not respond to the South's January request to send Catholics to the mass. North Korea is atheist and only allows government-sanctioned churches. Possessing Bibles, evangelizing, and converting to Christianity are punishable by imprisonment or death.

In 2003, the North Korean government allowed Korean Roman Catholics' Association President Samuel Chang Jae-on and 16 other Changchung Church members to attend mass in Seoul. It was the first time North Korean Catholics were allowed to attend a South Korean mass in more than 50 years.