Friday, September 3, 2010

Kim Jong-il visits church but ‘remains hardline’

By reporter, Jilin, and Paul Hwang, Seoul
Jong-il visits church but ‘remains hardline’ thumbnail
The Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Jilin, China
A whistle-stop visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to a church in China is not a sign the secretive communist regime’s stance towards religion is softening, South Korean Catholics say.

Kim visited a Catholic church in Jilin in northeastern China during his Aug. 26-30 trip to the country.

The church visit immediately sparked speculation North Korea might relax its rigid stance towards Catholicism and other religions.

“It could be some kind of message related toward religion including Catholicism,” the Hankyoreh daily quoted an anonymous government official saying.

But Church people in South Korea were quick to dismiss such speculation.

It goes too far to say his visit has a hidden message, Father Baptist John Kim Hun-il told on Sept. 1.

“It seems the visit was just part of his trip,” the Korean Bishop’s Conference official added.

“North Korea has not given any sign of improving its relationship not only with the Catholic Church but with other religions in South Korea.”

Peter Park Chang-ho, secretary of Seoul Archdiocese’s Korea Reconciliation Committee agreed.

“It’s all guess work. His Church visit was a part of a personal ‘pilgrimage,’” he said.

During this trip, Kim visited several places where his father and predecessor Kim Il-sung had stayed.

Church sources in Jilin told that Father Nicholas Liu Wenhui, the parish priest, escorted Kim around the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on Aug. 26.

Kim only spent five minutes in the church but told the priest that his father had once stayed there during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), they said.

Built in 1926, the Gothic church on the northern bank of the Songhua River was a former Jilin diocese cathedral.

It was declared a historical monument by the Jilin provincial government in 1999.

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