Witness to the persecution of Christians in North Korea

As you know, for the past 60 years and more the « Land of the Morning Calm » has been cut in two, following a particularly bloody fratricidal war…
Earlier, I was able to travel to North Korea and, despite the constant surveillance by the police, I was able to verify the truth of various reports and hear numerous witness stories from North Korean refugees.

First of all in the hospitals: the situation is critical – no antibiotics, no dressings, not even any soap. To give you just one example, instead of bottles of serum for the transfusions, they use beer bottles filled with boiled sugar water!
I was able to visit some schools. They illustrate the chronic malnutrition of the entire population – with the exception of the apparatchiks of the regime of course! One needs to know that a North Korean child, aged seven, measures on average 20 cm less and weighs 10 kg less than a child in South Korea. The refugees were unanimous in telling me that in North Korea, « you have to bribe some member of the party or of the army in order to obtain basic necessities ». Hence corruption is the order of the day.

I was also surprised not to see any handicapped people… The truth is that the North Korean regime, racist and eugenicist, is obsessed with the notion of racial purity in which those designated « abnormal » have no part. Consequently they are expelled from the major cities.
How to describe this communist regime in a few words? North Korea is a country so closed that no one can enter or move around without a visa… « Including God », as the refugees add with a touch of black humour. The two principal pillars of the repression are, on the one hand, total control over all the movements of the population and on the other, the ignorance of the outside world… So much so that the North Korean refugees who have succeeded in escaping discover to their astonishment a reality that is totally different from what they have been told ever since birth.

They describe all the unbridled Marxist propaganda inflicted on the people in order to make them zombies, submissive to the Communist Party. The dictator is presented as a veritable « god», an idea unfailingly promoted in every speech, in all the teaching, all the information… The Kim dynasty – from grandfather to the grandson currently in power – is the object of a frenetic propaganda, with its 30,000 giant statues and portraits in every town and village and it slogans inscribed on vast billboards on every street and road… The North Koreans are taught to spy on their neighbours and colleagues and denounce one another for any failing in their duty towards the « Great Leader ». After the arrest of the transgressor, the whole neighbourhood and the family are rounded up in order to criticise the transgressions of the supposed delinquent. Then he is either deported, or everybody witnesses to his execution.

Speaking of the deportation camps, this gives me the opportunity to report on the Christian presence in the country. The gathering of witness statements and the observations of Western satellites enable us to estimate the number of persons detained in these veritable concentration camps – anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 individuals. The brutality of the camp guards is the daily bread of these prisoners, who work 16 hours a day, suffer atrocious tortures, to say nothing of the public executions of those deemed to have been recalcitrant.

Among these « political prisoners » those who suffer the worst treatment are the Christians, since they are regarded as spies, as « anti-revolutionaries of the first class ». According to the regime there are around 13,000 of them, but according to humanitarian organisations there are 20 to 40,000 – and they are singled out for the cruellest treatments of all – crucified, hanged from bridges or trees, drowned, or burnt alive… Some witnesses describe tortures so horrible that decency prevents me from describing them to you…

For the rulers of North Korea every form of religion must be banished – in other words, both Christianity and Buddhism – since, as the Marxist « catechism » tells us, religion is the opium of the people. North Koreans do not know what a Bible is, nor consequently who God is. A few years ago, with great fanfare of propaganda, the government opened a Catholic church, a Protestant temple, and an Orthodox church in the capital – but of course they are nothing but mere showpieces!

Yet despite all this, there is indeed an underground Church in North Korea, which is the object of continued persecution. When I asked North Korean refugees, « Have you heard mention of or have you seen a neighbour arrested for having been caught in the act of praying, either at home or in a secret place? », many people answered in the affirmative. And some information does manage to filter through; for example, two years ago, a pregnant woman aged 33 was arrested in possession of 20 Bibles. She was beaten severely, then hung by her feet in public. In May 2010 some 20 Christians were arrested; they were part of a clandestine church. Three of them were immediately put to death and the rest were deported. It is thought that since 1995 at least 5,000 Christians have been executed, solely because they were praying secretly or distributing Bibles. Many North Koreans have become Christians thanks to the presence of foreign missionaries on the border. It is also known that some American and Canadian pastors of Korean origin are currently imprisoned in the political prisoners’ camps for having helped the refugees.

I met with some refugees in a country bordering on North Korea who, if arrested, risk being forcibly repatriated – which means prison, torture, the camps and death. If they are not repatriated, they risk falling into the hands of criminal organisations which traffic in human organs. Women and young girls risk being kidnapped by gangs and sold to peasants or, still worse, to brothel owners. A young Korean girl can be sold for $800-$1200…

For over 60 years thousands of North Koreans have attempted to escape to a free country, but it is not so easy. They have to pass through China, which refuses to recognise the refugee status of those whom it persists in describing as « illegal immigrants ». Without papers, and therefore clandestine, there are numerous such people, who find work however they are able: ill paid, ill treated, without any rights and at the mercy of their employers…

Willing to extricate these refugees from this impossible situation are the people traffickers, who risk their lives but make sure they’re well paid. They will smuggle people to South Korea if they wish it, or to Canada, or the United States and other countries, via Mongolia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand… To smuggle someone from North Korea to a third country, you need around 4,000 to 5,000 Euros for a false passport, transport, food; to pay the smuggler and the bribes to customs officials and police… And of course such « contracts » are entirely arbitrary, and it can happen that at the last moment the smuggler demands more money.
In my meetings with North Korean refugees I have heard stories that were so unbearable that tears of suffering and shame were pouring from my eyes… How is it possible for human beings to commit such atrocities? How can so many human lives be trampled underfoot in the midst of such total indifference?
And so, as a missionary and as a Catholic priest, I am speaking here on behalf of all those Koreans who for over 60 years have been living one of the the longest Ways of the Cross in human history. I speak on behalf of those who have had an eye torn out, or another organ, without anaesthetic, so that they can be transplanted into rich Chinese, Japanese or others! I am speaking on behalf of all those North Koreans who are victims of the slave traders!

The attempts by these thousands of men, women and children to flee are a fact of major importance, and we need to emphasise the political and diplomatic aspects of it. Unfortunately, the countries closest to North Korea, and also those further afield in Europe or America, are demanding no more than a few changes, in the name of « human rights », without actually challenging the status quo – seemingly for the sake of « maintaining international relations », they tell us – in reality to guarantee a « peace of compromise ». In effect they are postponing indefinitely the liberation of North Korea, and hence also the reunification of the country.

In conclusion, calculating things on a strictly geopolitical basis, the 21 million North Koreans risk having to wait a long time before seeing any radical improvement in their lot… Barring an intervention of God, that is, something we pray for ardently every day for this crucified people.

Merciful Lord Jesus,
I beg you to deliver our North Korean brothers and sisters from the chains that have held them captive now for over 70 years already.
Turn your loving gaze upon this suffering people …
Teach peace to the Korean nation, cut in half, north from south, by a fratricidal war. Help us to contribute to reconciliation and do not let us be carried away by despair.
Good Shepherd, reunite in your arms all our North Korean brothers and sisters, one by one. Envelop them in your tender saving love.
May Our Lady of Fatima bring down the wall of communism and help them to discover the freedom and joy of living as children of God.

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Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

La visite du Pape nous remontera le moral, plus que toute autre chose. Tous les yeux de la planète seront dirigés vers Baghdeda. Le monde saura ainsi ce qui est arrivé à cette ville : les terribles destructions et la migration forcée. Ce serait également bien si nous recevions ensuite un peu plus d’aide et de soutien. Cette visite est très importante pour nous qui sommes ici, surtout après l’énorme migration forcée de tant des nôtres. Cette visite signifie que nous ne sommes pas seuls et qu’il y a des gens qui prient pour nous. Cela nous donnera de l’espoir, nous encouragera à rester dans notre pays et à ne pas le quitter.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Si j’ai l’occasion de le rencontrer, je voudrais le remercier pour sa visite qui nous rend très heureux, et pour ses prières. Je tiens également à le remercier pour toute l’aide qu’il nous a procurée ces derniers temps. Je n’oublie pas sa grande solidarité et le geste qu’il a fait en vendant aux enchères la Lamborghini qu’on lui avait donnée pour soutenir avec l’argent récolté la reconstruction de la plaine de Ninive. Je voudrais aussi qu’il continue à prier pour nous afin que la paix arrive en Irak.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

Je voudrais lui montrer l’église historique Al-Tahira et des photos de Baghdeda, je voudrais qu’il voie comment l’État Islamique l’a détruite et comment les gens d’ici ont eu le courage de la reconstruire.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa levantará el ánimo y la moral, más que cualquier otra cosa. Todos los ojos del mundo se dirigirán a Baghdeda. Así, el mundo sabrá lo que le sucedió a esta ciudad. La terrible destrucción y la migración forzada. También sería bueno si luego recibimos más ayuda y apoyo. Esta visita es realmente importante para nosotros, los que estamos aquí, especialmente después de la enorme migración forzada de tantos de los nuestros. La visita significa que no estamos solos y hay quienes rezan por nosotros. Esto nos dará esperanza, nos animará a permanecer en nuestra tierra y no dejarla.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Si tengo la oportunidad de encontrarme con él: quiero agradecerle su visita, que nos hace muy felices, y su oración. También quiero darle las gracias por todo lo que nos ha ayudado durante el último periodo. No me olvido de su gran solidaridad y del gesto de subastar el Lamborghini para apoyar con ese dinero la reconstrucción de la llanura de Nínive. También quiero que siga orando por nosotros para que la paz llegue a Irak.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Quiero mostrarle la histórica iglesia Al-Tahira y fotos de Baghdeda, quiero que vea cómo fue destruida por ISIS y cómo la gente de aquí ha sido tan fuerte para reconstruirla nuevamente.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes wird die Stimmung und die Moral heben, mehr als alles andere. Alle Augen der Welt werden auf Baghdida gerichtet sein. Dann wird die Welt erfahren, was mit dieser Stadt passiert ist, die schreckliche Zerstörung und die erzwungene Migration. Es wäre auch gut, wenn wir anschließend mehr Hilfe und Unterstützung bekommen würden. Dieser Besuch ist wirklich wichtig für uns hier, besonders nach der großen Zwangsmigration so vieler unserer Leute. Der Besuch bedeutet, dass wir nicht allein sind, und dass es Menschen gibt, die für uns beten. Das wird uns Hoffnung geben, es wird uns ermutigen, in unserem Land zu bleiben und es nicht zu verlassen.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Wenn ich die Gelegenheit habe, ihn zu treffen: Ich möchte ihm für seinen Besuch, der uns sehr glücklich macht, und für sein Gebet danken. Ich möchte mich auch bei ihm für alles bedanken, was uns in der letzten Zeit geholfen hat. Ich werde nie seine große Solidarität vergessen sowie die Geste, den Lamborghini zu versteigern (siehe Link zur Meldung), um mit diesem Geld den Wiederaufbau der Ninive-Ebene zu unterstützen. Ich möchte auch, dass er weiterhin für uns betet, damit im Irak Frieden einkehrt.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die historische Al-Tahira-Kirche zeigen und Bilder von Baghdida, ich möchte, dass er sieht, wie alles von ISIS zerstört wurde und welcher Kraft die Menschen hier es wiederaufgebaut haben.

What does the Pope’s visit mean to you?
The papal visit will lift up our spirits and morale more than anything else. All the eyes of the world will be on Baghdeda. And in this way the world will know what happened to this city. The terrible destruction and the forcible ethnic cleansing. It will also be a good thing if afterwards we get more support and help. This visit is really important to us, to those of us who are living here, especially after the massive ethnic cleansing and expulsion of so many of us. His visit means that we are not alone and that there are people who are praying for us. This will give us fresh hope and encourage us to persevere, here on our own soil, and not leave it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
If I get the opportunity to meet him, I would like to be able to thank him for his visit, which has made us very happy, and for his prayers. I would also like to thank him for all he has done to help us in recent times. I have not forgotten his great gesture of solidarity in auctioning the Lamborghini in order to use the money to help pay for the reconstruction of our homes on the Niniveh plains. I would also like to ask him to continue praying for us and for peace to return to Iraq.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? Which places should he visit?
I would like to show him our historic Al-Tahira church, and some photos of Baghdeda. I’d like him to be able to see how it was destroyed by IS and how the people here have worked so hard recently to rebuild it once more.

Qu’est-ce que cette visite signifie pour vous ?

La visite du Pape est ce que nous désirions le plus ici. C’est une grande bénédiction. Nous avons un grand désir de le voir. Ce qui rajoute de l’importance à cette visite, c’est la situation de vulnérabilité que nous, chrétiens, subissons en Irak. Il y a plusieurs raisons à cette fragilité, toutes sont les séquelles de l’État Islamique. Toutes ces destructions ont grandement contribué à l’émigration des chrétiens. De nombreux problèmes pèsent sur nous. Mais par sa visite, le Pape nous donnera de l’espérance et de la confiance, il nous encouragera et réduira notre fardeau. Bien que la situation soit instable en Irak en ce qui concerne la sécurité, tout spécialement dans le domaine politique, on s’attend à ce qu’à l’arrivée du Pape, sa sécurité soit correctement assurée.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Je voudrais lui demander de me donner sa bénédiction, de bénir mon travail et le dévouement des prêtres d’ici, et de bénir le peuple par ses prières. Je voudrais lui demander d’aider tous ceux qui sont en danger dans ce pays, qu’ils soient chrétiens ou musulmans. Qu’il tente de mobiliser les pays du monde entier pour soutenir ce pays qui a besoin d’aide.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais qu’il visite l’église Al-Tahira, parce que c’est un symbole et un élément du patrimoine de Baghdeda. Cette église est la mère, le foyer et le patrimoine de chacun des habitants de Baghdeda. Nos ancêtres ont construit cette église, nous avons tous le sentiment d’en faire partie. Bien sûr, nous serions heureux qu’il visite de nombreux endroits, des églises, monastères et maisons traditionnelles, et qu’il rencontre également beaucoup de gens qui ont le désir de le voir.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa es lo que más hemos deseado aquí. Es una gran bendición. Sentimos un gran anhelo de verlo. Lo que agrega importancia a esta visita son las condiciones tan vulnerables que sufrimos los cristianos en Irak. Hay varios motivos para esa fragilidad, todas las secuelas que ha dejado el ISIS, esa enorme destrucción ha llevado en gran medida a la emigración de cristianos. Muchos problemas pesan sobre nosotros. Pero cuando nos visite, nos dará esperanza, confianza y aliento y reducirá esta carga. Además del hecho de que la situación de seguridad en Irak, especialmente la política, es inestable, se espera que a la llegada del Papa se garantice su seguridad de manera correcta.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Querría pedirle que me dé su bendición, que bendiga mi servicio y la entrega de los sacerdotes aquí y que bendiga al pueblo a través de sus plegarias. Le pido que ayude a todos los que están en peligro en este país, ya sean cristianos o musulmanes. Que intente movilizar a los países del mundo para que apoyen a este país que necesita ayuda.

 ¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda / Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me encantaría que visite la iglesia Al-Tahira, porque es símbolo y patrimonio de Baghdeda. Esta iglesia es madre, hogar y herencia de cada uno de los habitantes de Baghdeda. Nuestros antepasados ​​construyeron esta iglesia, todos nos sentimos parte de ella. Ciertamente, nos alegraría que visitara muchos lugares, iglesias, monasterios y casas tradicionales,  también que vea a muchas personas que anhelan verlo.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes ist das, was wir uns hier am meisten gewünscht haben. Es ist ein großer Segen. Wir spüren eine starke Sehnsucht, ihn zu sehen. Was diesen Besuch noch wichtiger macht, sind die äußerst prekären Bedingungen, unter denen wir Christen im Irak leiden. Es gibt mehrere Gründe für diese Zerbrechlichkeit. All die Folgen, die ISIS hinterlassen hat, diese enorme Zerstörung hat in großem Maße zur Auswanderung von Christen geführt. Viele Probleme lasten auf uns. Aber wenn er uns besucht, wird er uns Hoffnung, Zuversicht und Ermutigung geben und diese Last verringern. Auch wenn die Sicherheitslage im Irak, insbesondere die politische Situation, instabil ist, hoffen wir, dass bei der Ankunft des Papstes seine Sicherheit ausreichend gewährleistet ist.

 

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Ich möchte ihn bitten, mir seinen Segen zu geben, meinen Dienst und die Hingabe der Priester hier zu segnen und die Menschen durch seine Gebete zu segnen. Ich bitte ihn, all jenen zu helfen, die in diesem Land in Gefahr sind, ob sie nun Christen oder Muslime sind; und die Länder der Welt zu mobilisieren, um dieses Land, das Hilfe braucht, zu unterstützen.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida / Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte, dass er die Al-Tahira-Kirche besucht, denn sie ist ein Symbol und Erbe von Baghdida. Diese Kirche ist die Mutter, die Heimat und das Vermächtnis eines jeden einzelnen Menschen in Baghdida. Unsere Vorfahren haben diese Kirche erbaut, wir alle fühlen uns als Teil von ihr. Sicherlich würden wir uns freuen, wenn er viele Orte, Kirchen, Klöster und traditionelle Häuser besuchen würde, und auch, wenn er viele Menschen treffen würde, die sich danach sehnen, ihn zu sehen.

What does the visit mean to you?
The papal visit is the thing we have longed for most of all here. It will be a great blessing. We have a great yearning to see him. What gives added importance to this visit is the so very vulnerable situation that we are suffering as Christians in Iraq. There are many reasons for this vulnerability, including the aftermath of what IS left behind, the enormous destruction which has led in such large measure to the emigration of the Christians. There are many problems weighing on us. But when he comes to visit us, he will give us new hope and confidence and some relief from this burden. In addition there is the fact that the security situation in Iraq, and especially the political situation, is so unstable, so we are hoping that when the Pope does arrive they will guarantee his security in the way that they should.

 

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
I would like to ask him to give me his blessing, to bless my ministry and the hard work of all the priests here, and also to bless all the people through his prayers. I would ask him to help all those in danger in this country, whether they are Christians or Muslims. And that he might strive to encourage the countries of the world to support this nation, which is truly in need.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places ought he to visit?
I would love him to visit the Al-Tahira church, because it is a symbol and a rich cultural legacy of Baghdeda. This church is the mother, the home and the inheritance of every one of the inhabitants of Baghdeda. Our forefathers built this church, and we all feel we are a part of it. Of course, we would be happy for him to visit many different places – churches, monasteries and traditional homes – and also for him to be able to meet all the many people who are longing to see him.

Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

Elle a une valeur morale, et non pas économique. Cette question occupera l’opinion publique mondiale, et tout spécialement irakienne. J’ai l’impression d’y tenir une place importante.

 

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Ce sera formidable de faire sa connaissance, et je voudrais lui dire : « Nous avons besoin d’une protection internationale parce que notre communauté chrétienne a subi une migration forcée ».

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais lui montrer les églises et les maisons brûlées, afin qu’il voie les dégâts que l’État Islamique a laissés derrière lui dans cette ville. Et aussi notre Musée du patrimoine de Baghdeda pour lui présenter notre histoire et notre culture.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita tiene un valor moral, no económico. Este tema ocupará la opinión pública en el mundo y especialmente en Irak. Siento que tengo un lugar importante en él.

 

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Será genial conocerlo y querría decirle “necesitamos protección internacional, porque nuestra comunidad cristiana ha sufrido una migración forzada”.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me gustaría mostrarle las iglesias y las casas quemadas, para que vea el daño que dejó ISIS en esta ciudad. Y también nuestro Museo del patrimonio de Baghdeda para presentarle nuestro historia y cultura.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch hat einen moralischen Wert, keinen wirtschaftlichen. Er wird die öffentliche Meinung in der Welt und insbesondere im Irak beherrschen. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass ich einen wichtigen Anteil daran habe.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Es wird großartig sein, ihn zu treffen, und ich möchte ihm sagen: „Wir brauchen internationalen Schutz, weil unsere christliche Gemeinschaft unter der erzwungenen Auswanderung gelitten hat“.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die Kirchen und ausgebrannten Häuser zeigen, damit er den Schaden sieht, den ISIS in dieser Stadt angerichtet hat. Und auch unser Heimatmuseum in Baghdida, um ihm unsere Geschichte und Kultur näher zu bringen.

What does this visit mean to you?
This visit has a moral value rather than an economic one. This is a topic that will engage public opinion around the world and especially in Iraq. I feel as though I have an important part to play in it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?

It would be wonderful to be able to meet him, and I would like to be able to say to him, “We need international protection, because our Christian community was forcibly displaced.”

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places should he visit?
I would like to be able to show him the churches and houses that were burnt out, so that he could see the destruction left behind by IS in this city. And also our Baghdeda Heritage Museum, so that we can show him our history and culture.