Amidst a growing tensions and diplomatic negotiations for peace and security on the Korean peninsula, a delegation from World Council of Churches (WCC) will be visiting the churches in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) this week.
The delegation to be led by Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, general secretary of WCC will make a pastoral visit to the churches at the invitation of and being organized by the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) of North Korea and will take place from 17 to 20 October, WCC statement today stated
“We will be meeting with the churches, government officials and learning about the life and witness of churches in North Korea,” said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the WCC Public Witness programme and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, who will be a member of the delegation travelling with Kobia.
He said, “We will be participating in the worship service at Bong Soo Church in Pyongyang, where the WCC general secretary will preach.”
The churches in North Korea are involved in social development and humanitarian aid assistance, and the members of WCC’s ecumenical fellowship have been supportive to the KCF for the past several years, said Chunakara.
The host, the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) is a state-controlled Protestant body of DPR Korea that was founded in 1946. It is one of only three official Protestant churches recognized in the country and is reportedly having about 12,000 members.
The visit is taking place at a time when intense multilateral diplomatic efforts and negotiations are under way on issues related to denuclearization of North Korea and resumption of Six Party Talks, which were stalled for some time after North Korea withdrew from the talks.
Although North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is said to have made the announcement to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Pyongyang last week during his three-day visit that North Korea would return to the Six Party Talks, it is also reported that Kim Jong-il said the return would be dependent on the progress of its planned bilateral talks with the U.S.
The statement said WCC has been relating with the churches in North Korea for the past 25 years, with the first official visit having taken place in 1985. In the early 1980s the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs initiated a process aimed at peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula and bringing church leaders from North and South Korea together.
This is the second visit of a WCC general secretary in ten years. In 1999, then general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser visited North Korea.
According to WCC, after the visit to North Korea, the delegation will travel to Hong Kong to participate in an international consultation on peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula, which will be held from 21 to 23 October.
The statement said WCC general secretary will be accompanied by WCC staff members Mathews George Chunakara, Christina Papazoglou, Mark Beach and Peter Williams, as well as the general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, Dr Prawate Khid-arn.
The announcement comes within a week when U.S. Evangelist Franklin Graham is visiting the country, and was meeting with North Korea's foreign minister Wednesday. The evangelist planned to present equipment and supplies valued at $190,000 for a new dental center being built in Pyongyang.
North Korea has been ranked the worst persecutor of Christians for seven years in a row in the annual Open Doors Watch List 2009.
It is believed that tens of thousands of Christians are currently suffering in North Korean prison camps, according to Open Doors. The regime is suspected of detaining more political and religious prisoners than any other country in the world.