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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 April, 2005, 22:25 GMT 23:25 UK
N Korea stages Mass for Pope
Still from the South Korean TV report - 10/4/05
Critics of North Korea said the film was propaganda
A memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II has been held at a Catholic church in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang.

The service was filmed by a US company and shown on South Korean television after being given the green light by the North Korean government.

There are an estimated 3,000-4,000 Roman Catholics in North Korea.

But many Christian analysts believe that churches in North Korea are merely propaganda fronts aimed primarily at appeasing a foreign audience.

"The churches in the capital were created for foreigners, and in no way indicate any degree of religious freedom for the North Korea population," said Elizabeth Batha, International Advocate for the charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

"Those caught following religious beliefs, particularly Christianity, are subject to severe punishments, including horrific torture, confinement in brutal prison camps and execution."

According to the BBC correspondent in Seoul, North Korean citizens are taught from birth to show almost religious devotion to the country's ruling dynasty, and there is no tolerance for independent religious activity.

No clergy

The state media waited until 5 April before finally announcing the death of the pontiff, three days after he died.

"When I first heard about the Pope passing away I was very surprised, although of course I knew already that he had been sick," said Kim Yong-il, a church official at the Chang Chung Church in Pyongyang.

At the church, established in 1988, regular prayer services are held every Sunday.

North Korea does not have any seminaries to train its own priests, and the memorial for the Pope was reportedly celebrated by an ethnic Korean priest from the US.

The North Korean Catholics' Association sent a message of condolence to the Vatican after learning of his death.

It is not clear how many Catholics live in the country, but North Korean authorities put their number at about 4,000, while a government-approved group based on a traditional religious movement allegedly has at least 10 times as many followers.



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