North declines invite to papal Mass
Multiple South Korean Catholic officials on Monday conveyed that North Korea had hinted at the end of last month that North Korean authorities expressed hesitation about sending its Catholics to Seoul.
Pope Francis is scheduled to hold a special Mass for peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula on Aug. 18 at Myeong-dong Cathedral in central Seoul, and Catholic Church officials here have extended several requests to Pyongyang to send a delegation of believers to attend the event.
According to a church official here, North Korean authorities at the end of last month said that “there is a lot of consideration in going to Seoul right now.” In North Korean lingo, the official added, “a lot of consideration” is a polite abstention.
Pyongyang further relayed that it “found it regrettable” that the South had requested its attendance at a Mass praying for peace on the Korean Peninsula in the midst of continued tension between the two nations over the May 24 sanctions and the joint military drills between South Korea and the United States.
The comprehensive sanctions imposed on North Korea by Seoul on May 24, 2010, halted all inter-Korean projects except those in relation to the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
The sanctions were put in place after it was found that the South Korean Cheonan warship had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo. The incident on March 26, 2010, killed 46 sailors.
The North’s Korean Catholics Association expressed in a letter to the South Korean Catholic Bishops’ Conference that it would be difficult to accept an invitation to the Mass, as it would coincide with the launch of an annual military drill held jointly by Seoul and Washington, the Agence France-Presse reported yesterday.
Pyongyang warned Seoul multiple times to scrap the Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise, which it views as a provocation of war.
Meanwhile, the preparatory committee for the papal visit said yesterday Pope Francis will meet with families of the victims of the April 16 Sewol ferry tragedy.
He is also expected to wear a hanbok, a traditional Korean garment, at a beatification ceremony of 124 Korean martyrs on Aug. 16 in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul. The 77-year-old Bishop of Rome is visiting Korea on his first trip to Asia since he took over the papacy in March 2013.
BY YOO JEE-HYE, SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]