Catholic Church in North Korea

The Catholic Church in North Korea retains a community of several hundred adherents who practice under the supervision of the state-established Korean Catholic Association (KCA) rather than the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The dioceses of the Church have remained vacant since Christian persecutions in the late 1940s.[1][2] The most prominent congregation is that of Pyongyang, which meets at Changchung Cathedral. According to a KCA official, two other congregations exist. The state ideology of Juche has largely displaced Catholic faith, and full services are provided only to people with a Catholic family background.[3]


The first Catholic missionaries arrived in 1794, a decade after the return of Yi Sung-hun, a diplomat who was the first baptised Korean in Beijing. He established a grassroots lay Catholic movement in the peninsula. However, the writings of the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, who was resident at the imperial court in Beijing, had been already brought to Korea from China in the 17th century. Scholars of the Silhak ("Practical Learning") were attracted to Catholic doctrines, and this was a key factor for the spread of the Catholic faith in the 1790s. The penetration of Western ideas and Christianity in Korea became known as Seohak ("Western Learning"). A study of 1801 found that more than half of the families that had converted to Catholicism were linked to the Silhak school. Largely because converts refused to perform Confucian ancestral rituals, the Joseon government prohibited the proselytisation of Christianity. Some Catholics were executed during the early 19th century, but the restrictive law was not strictly enforced.

A large number of Christians lived in the northern half of the peninsula where Confucian influence was not as strong as in the south. Before 1948, Pyongyang was an important Christian center: one-sixth of its population of about 300,000 people were Christian converts. The population of the Pyongyang diocese as of 1943 was 3,650,623, all ethnic Koreans.

After the division of Korea, however, the Communist government under Kim Il-sung persecuted Christians as imperialist collaborators and spies. Much of the Catholic community was either killed or imprisoned, and many more fled south. The martyrdom of the Benedictine monks of Tokwon Abbey was documented as the process of beatification was initiated for them.

The Korean Catholic Association (the state-run church) was set up on 30 June 1988. Samuel Chang Jae-on has been its president since its establishment. The association published a catechism and a prayer book in 1991. Kim Jong-il invited Pope John Paul II to Pyongyang after the 2000 inter-Korean summit, but the visit failed to materialize. A similar invitation to Pope Francis was made by Kim Jong-un following a series of inter-Korean summits in 2018.[4]

An invitation for the KCA to attend a Papal Mass in Seoul on 18 August 2014, during a 4-day visit to South Korea by Pope Francis, was declined by the association.[5]

Dioceses and archdioceses

Cathedrals in North Korea

  • Changchung Cathedral in Pyongyang, North Korea (Diocese of Pyong-yang 평양)
  • Tokwon Abbey of St. Benedict in Tokwon 덕원, North Korea (Territorial Abbacy of Tŏkwon 덕원)[8]

See also


  1. Voice of America English News: Despite Tremendous Odds, Religion Survives in North Korea
  2. National Catholic Reporter: Catholicism in North Korea survives in catacombs
  3. Interview at the Chamchung Cathedral
  4. Zwirko, Colin (9 October 2018). "Kim Jong Un says Pope welcome to visit Pyongyang: Blue House". NK News. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  5. "North Korea rejects offer to attend mass given by Pope Francis in Seoul". The Guardian. 6 August 2014. Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  6. Catholic Dioceses in North Korea
  7. Catholic-Hierarchy: Current Dioceses in North Korea
  8. Cathedrals in North Korea