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From North Korea to Catholicism: Mi Jin’s answered prayer

February 16, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Seoul, South Korea, Feb 16, 2018 / 09:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During her childhood in North Korea, Mi Jin Kang never believed in the existence of God, until one person began to spark her curiosity.

“From school education, I learned that religion is a drug,” Mi Jin told CNA, “However, I heard the story of God from a girl that I met in North Korea before my escape. This was the first step to belief.”

“Before escaping North Korea, the story of God was a curiosity and miraculous,” said Mi Jin who decided to escape North Korea in 2009, at the age of 40.

“When I escaped from North Korea, I prayed with my two hands,” remembered Mi Jin, “When my prayer to God at the moment of escape was answered, I decided to be a child of God.”

“It was especially this prayer to God at the moment of escaping from North Korea that led me to be a believer during the process of settling in South Korea.”

Though she did not share details of her escape, many North Korean defectors are helped to South Korea by a network supported by Chinese Christians.

In South Korea, an order of Korean religious sisters taught Mi Jin and other North Korean defectors about the Catholic faith. Mi Jin learned about Saint Therese the Little Flower from the sisters.

At her baptism, Mi Jin took a new Christian name, as is the custom for Korean Catholics. She became Teresa.

“I wanted to be like Saint Teresa, who lived a faithful life,” Mi Jin said.

When Pope Francis visited South Korea in 2014, Mi Jin was invited by the Korean bishops to see  Pope Francis face-to-face, in the front row of the beatification Mass for 124 Korean martyrs. She also attended to Pope’s Mass in Seoul’s historic Myeongdong Cathedral.

“I got to experience the glory of a Mass close to the Pope,” said Mi Jin.

Mi Jin now works as a journalist in South Korea at the Daily NK, helping others to understand what life is like inside the world’s most opaque country.

Mi Jin told CNA that American Catholics can help North Koreans. “I think it is necessary to provide humanitarian assistance for people who are in need in North Korea. I also hope that support for organizations who are broadcasting to reach out to residents in North Korea, such as Daily NK, can help it go smoothly.”

Mi Jin especially encouraged prayer for North Korea. “I hope that Kim Jong Un’s regime in North Korea realizes economic democratization for North Korean’s true freedom and life by giving up nuclear weapons.”

She also “hopes to see the unification Korea as the relationship between North and South Korea has developed in a positive way like recently.”

Mi Jin told CNA that she has been watching the Pyeongchang Olympic Games everyday. Her favorite event to watch is skiing.

Hyo Jeong Kim assisted with translation for this story.


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Slander lawsuit against Guam’s suspended archbishop dismissed

February 15, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Hagatna, Guam, Feb 16, 2018 / 12:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Guam court has dismissed part of a defamation lawsuit against Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agana, who is facing several accusations of sexual abuse in the 1970s.

The archbishop had publicly renounced the sexual abuse charges in a 2016 statement soon after the accusations were made, saying there were “intentional lies.”

The archbishop’s accusers brought a two-part defamation case against him shortly after his 2016 statement. Guam Pacific Daily News reported that the plaintiffs were seeking $500,000 each for a total $2 million in defamation charges.

In recent decision, Superior Court Judge Michael Bordallo dismissed the slander case but will allow the libel case to stand.

“It dismissed half the suit essentially…the complaint is two-fold: it’s a defamation suit. One for libel. One for slander. The slander was dismissed so all that’s remaining is libel,” said the archbishop’s attorney, Jacque Terlaje, according to Kuam News.

The court instructed the defendant to “seek dismissal of the suit based on the affirmative defenses of qualified privilege,” Terlaje said.

“If someone accuses you of sex abuse, and in this context in a public forum… every person has the right to defend against that, to repel the allegations of abuse is the language that is used by many courts.”

Archbishop Apuron has been accused by four former alter boys of sexual molestation in the 1970s, when Apuron was a parish priest at Mount Carmel Parish in Agat. The allegations were made public in 2016.

In January 2018, the archbishop’s nephew accused him of rape around 1989 or 1990.

The archbishop Apuron continued to deny all allegations. “God is my witness: I deny all allegations of sexual abuse made against me include this one,” he said in January, according to Guam Pacific Daily News.



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Court likely to withdraw charge of key accuser in Cardinal Pell abuse case

February 15, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Melbourne, Australia, Feb 15, 2018 / 10:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Melbourne Magistrates Court heard Wednesday that a charge related to a key witness in the case against Cardinal George Pell, accused of historical sexual abuse, is likely to be withdrawn.

In the Feb. 14 hearing, the director of prosecutions for the Melbourne Magistrates Court said that while they had not decided on the matter, the charge of a key complainant who died in January would likely be withdrawn.

Defense attorney Ruth Shann argued against the man’s credibility, saying Pell’s legal team would be examining the credibility of the “unreliable” witness when the formal four-week committal hearing begins March 5.

The witness, Damian Dignan, who died of leukemia in early January, and a fellow classmate at St. Alipius school in Ballarat accused Pell in 2016 of inappropriate sexual behavior when they were minors. The cardinal had previously been accused of acts of child sexual abuse dating as far back as 1961.

Shann said Dignan’s complaints – which he made to Australia’s Royal Commission in 2015, nearly 40 years after the alleged abuse, after reading about other cases in the commission in newspapers – had a “domino effect” in terms of other people contacting the police.

She said Pell’s lawyers had subpoenaed material from the Dignan’s lawyer and that they would pursue material connected to his complaint whether it was included as part of the case or not, since he was the “starting point,” and other accusers who spoke out after can’t be understood without first dealing with their knowledge of Dignan’s own complaint.

Pell’s legal team last week subpoenaed medical records for other complainants to build their argument, however, the magistrate overseeing Wednesday’s hearing, Belinda Wallington, denied the request due to a lack of what she believed was “substantial probative value” in the case.

She also questioned a request for a complainant’s medical records from Justice Health, which provides medical services for Victorian prisoners, saying she would delay her decision until a hearing next week, the Australian reports.

This week’s hearing took place Feb. 14 in Melbourne, and is the latest step in the ongoing case against the cardinal, who in June 2016 was charged by Victoria state police of multiple instances of historical sexual abuse.

After the charges were announced, Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and a member of the Pope’s council of nine cardinal advisers, was granted leave from his post by Pope Francis in order to return to Australia for the trial.

Cardinal Pell, who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966, has pled not guilty to the multiple counts of sexual abuse, and has maintained his innocence from the beginning.

“I am innocent of these charges, they are false,” he told journalists June 29, 2017, after the charges were announced, adding that “the whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

Pell has testified multiple times before Australia’s Royal Commission denying abuse charges and is known to have spoken out against sexual abuses in the past.

“It is important to recall that Card. Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors,” stated Holy See spokesman Greg Burke last summer.

However, Burke also underscored the importance of respecting the proceedings of the Australian justice system, which will ultimately “decide the merits of the questions raised.”


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Expert says religious freedom critical for Vatican-China bishop deal

February 14, 2018 CNA Daily News 1

Rome, Italy, Feb 14, 2018 / 11:06 am (CNA).- A missionary priest and expert on the Church in China has expressed caution, and a limited optimism, about a rumored agreement between China and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops.

Fr. Bernard Cervellera is the editor-in-chief of Asia News, a media project of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, PIME.

In an interview with CNA, he said that an accord could lead to greater freedom for Catholics in the Communist country, though he questioned the Chinese communist party’s intentions, asking whether true religious freedom is possible under a regime that so far has sought to eradicate religion.

The priest stressed that if an agreement is reached, the Vatican will need to push “for more religious freedom.”

“You can’t simply deliver the Church, but there must also be more religious freedom,” he said.

Asia News covers the Church in China closely, and reported the news that in October 2017 a Holy See delegation went to China asking two bishops – Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou in and Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin of Mindong– to step down in favor of government-appointed bishops.

In 1951 Beijing broke official diplomatic ties with the Vatican. Since the 1980s they have loosely cooperated in episcopal appointments, however, the government has also named bishops without Vatican approval.

The result has been an increasingly complicated and tense relationship between the government-supported Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the so-called “underground Church,” which includes priests and bishops who are not recognized by the government.

Many Catholics parishioners, priests and bishops who have rejected government control have been imprisoned, harassed and otherwise persecuted. Churches have also been destroyed by the Chinese government.

Currently every bishop recognized by Beijing must be a member of the patriotic association, and many bishops appointed by the Vatican who are not recognized or approved by the Chinese government have faced government persecution.

However, as part of a proposed agreement, which sources close the situation have said is “imminent” and could come to fruition as early as this spring, the Vatican is expected to officially recognize seven bishops who are out of communion with Rome, including 2-3 whose excommunications have been explicitly declared by the Vatican.

Most notably, the new deal would also apparently outline government and Vatican roles in future episcopal selection. Reportedly, the details of the deal would be similar to the Vatican’s accord with Vietnam, in which the Holy See would propose three names, and the Chinese government would choose the one to be appointed bishop.

Cervellera told CNA that the Chinese government has tended to view religions as dangerous sources of terrorism and division, which threaten societal coexistence.  

For that reason, he said, making a concession for the sake of a deal is “likely the step that’s needed to show that the Church isn’t interested in overthrowing the Chinese government.”

Referring to recent statements made by Cardinal Joseph Zen, Archbishop Emeritus of Hong Kong and a leading opponent of the deal, Fr. Cervellera told CNA that “this agreement is an agreement that doesn’t ‘sell’ the Church,” but depending on how much the Vatican is willing to concede, could place the Church’s fate “completely in the hands of the government.”

Cervellera pointed to a government crackdown on religion, involving a stricter enforcement of rules which, as of Feb. 1, ban anyone under 18 from attending religious services. It’s also now forbidden to hold any sort of youth group activity, even if it’s not held at a church, he said.

Cervellera said that a fellow priest had observed that the government “has turned churches into a special type of ‘nightclub’ only for adults.”

If young people are removed from religion, he said, “you are practically condemning religions to death,” and this “was always the project of the Chinese Communist Party, always. Because the Patriotic Association was born to control religions so that little by little…they die from suffocation.”

On the other hand, he said, a deal Vatican deal with the government on appointing bishops could “facilitate the Vatican in deciding the candidates without problems, and help (with) the daily management of the Church,” he said.

But if the Vatican doesn’t insist on more breathing room, “both the official and the underground, the Church will continue being suffocated. Because what is lacking is religious freedom.”

On Monday a group of 15 influential Chinese Catholics, most of whom are from Hong Kong, wrote an open letter to bishops’ conferences around the world voicing their opposition to the deal, saying the government should have no role in choosing bishops and warned of schism should an accord be reached.

The signatories, which include Hong Kong politicians, university professors, lecturers, researchers, lawyers and human rights activists, specifically referenced the seven “illicit” bishops in question, saying “they do not have the trust of the faithful, and have never repented publicly.”

“If they were to be recognized as legitimate, the faithful in Greater China would be plunged into confusion and pain, and schism would be created in the Church in China.”

However, on Sunday, Feb. 11, Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin of the Mindong Diocese – one of the bishops asked to step down by the Vatican delegation in 2017 – said he would be willing to step aside in favor of government-backed Bishop Zhan Silu, who was formerly excommunicated by Rome.

According to the New York Times, Bishop Guo – who has placed in detention multiple times and is currently living under police surveillance – said he would respect any agreement that is reached, and that if he were presented with an official, verifiable Vatican document asking for his resignation, “then we must obey Rome’s decision.”

“Our consistent stand is to respect the deal made between the Vatican and the Chinese government,” he said, explaining that “the Chinese Catholic Church must have a connection with the Vatican; the connection cannot be severed.”

Though he would respect any deal that is reached, Guo also cautioned that there is still hesitancy on the part of Chinese authorities to let the Vatican have a final say over Catholic spiritual life, and that while they might not explicitly say the local Church has to “disconnect” from Rome, this has at times been implied.

What the Chinese authorities don’t realize, he said, is that by having the local Church cut ties with the universal Church would make Chinese Catholics “second-class believers,” because Catholics in other countries get to have a say in the rules that govern the global Church, whereas Chinese faithful don’t.

Guo said he at one point told the Chinese government that “when you restrict churches in China to contact Rome, in fact you are slapping your own face…We need to participate so that the Chinese voice” is not lost, but is heard within the universal Church.

However, despite recent crackdowns and a lingering reluctance on the part of the government, Guo said he believes restrictions on Catholics have loosened, and “the government is gradually opening up to it.”

In his comments to CNA, Fr. Cervellera said a deal would certainly make the process of choosing bishops easier, and it could open wider channels of communication with between the Vatican and the government.

“Now it’s truly complicated for the Vatican to make their needs heard to the Chinese Church,” so an agreement could make things easier, but “this doesn’t mean more free.”

Referring to rumors that the proposed deal would follow the Vietnam model, he said in this case “at least there is great assurance that the criteria in which the candidates are chosen is based on faith,” because with the patriotic association, the criteria are mainly in their own interests.

However, he voiced doubt that a deal might be as close as this spring, as authorities in the past have said multiple times that an agreement was near, but it never happened.

“I say this not because it’s pessimistic, but there are many, many problems inside the (Chinese community),” including an attitude on the part of some who don’t want an agreement.

Concerns have also been raised that should an agreement be made, it would potentially harm the Holy See’s relationship with Taiwan, as they are the island nation’s only European ally and one of only 20 countries who recognize their authority over Beijing.

On this point, Fr. Cervellera stressed that the agreement, “if it happens, is an agreement on the appointment of bishops, it’s not an agreement on diplomatic relations.”

In his view, “more time is needed” before discussing diplomatic ties between the Vatican and China.

Taiwan, he said, while having few allies, still has commercial offices all over the world, “and they are able to manage commercial relations throughout the world even without having this legal recognition from European countries. I think there will always be the possibility.”

If the Holy See lands this deal with China, “I don’t think it will be a big problem [for Taiwan],” he said, because “it’s not that the Vatican can forget about Taiwan, because it’s always a lively Church, so the Vatican must have relations with the community of Taiwan.

Overall, though skeptical, Fr. Cervellera said he hopes that if an accord is reached, it would help lead “to a greater influence of religions on Chinese society.”

A big problem Chinese society has, he said, is that it is very materialistic and lacks values, so beyond the “so-called national consciousness” that seeks to control and subordinate citizens, “there is nothing.”

“So to find a way to give spiritual values, to inflate spiritual values to give dignity to the people, this is an important task,” he said.

“I don’t know if this will happen through an agreement on the nomination of bishops. I hope, but this is certainly the mission of the Church, the entire global Church and the universal Church regarding China: to do it in such a way that Chinese development is a development inside the dignity of the human person…I hope that the Church is able to make [China] more human.”



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Amidst the Pyeongchang Games, remembering Korea’s martyrs

February 13, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Seoul, South Korea, Feb 13, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the 2018 Winter Olympic Games continue in Pyeongchang, the world is watching Korea for more than just sports.

The sister of North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, was present at the games’ opening ceremony where athletes from both Koreas marched together under an inter-Korean flag.

Vice President Mike Pence stated that U.S. policy will remain unchanged after his trip to the region. Pence said, “new strong sanctions are coming very soon and the maximum pressure campaign will only intensify until North Korea abandons its nuclear program” in a post on Twitter on Feb. 12.

As tensions on the Korean peninsula remain high, Catholics there are likely remembering the witness of Korea’s first native-born priest, the martyred Saint Andrew Kim Taegon.

“St. Andrew Kim Taegon exhorted believers to draw from divine love the strength to remain united and to resist evil,” said Pope St. John Paul II on his third and final papal trip to South Korea, in 2001.

Korea’s first priest, Andrew Kim Taegon, was born 1821 into an aristocratic Korean family that eventually included three generations of Catholic martyrs.

Kim’s great-grandfather died for his Catholic faith in 1814, decades before the first Catholic missionary priests arrived on the peninsula from France.

“The first Christian community in Korea [is] a community unique in the history of the Church by reason of the fact that it was founded entirely by lay people,” said John Paul II at the canonization of 103 Korean martyrs, including Andrew Kim Taegon, in 1984.

Andrew Kim traveled over 1,000 miles to attend seminary in Macau. While Kim was away at seminary, his father, Ignatius Kim Chae-jun, was martyred for his faith in 1839.

After Kim was ordained in Shanghai in 1845, he returned to his homeland to begin catechising Koreans in secret. Only 13 months later, he was arrested.

In his final letter from prison before he was tortured and beheaded, Kim wrote to Korean Christians:

“Dearest brothers and sisters: when he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded his Church; now he gives it increase through the sufferings of his faithful. No matter how fiercely the powers of this world oppress and oppose the Church, they will never bring it down. Ever since his ascension and from the time of the apostles to the present, the Lord Jesus has made his Church grow even in the midst of tribulations…I urge you to remain steadfast in faith, so that at last we will all reach heaven and there rejoice together. I embrace you all in love.”
During a century in which an estimated 10,000 Christians were martyred in Korea during waves of persecution by the Chosun Dynasty, Christianity continued to grow.

“The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the martyrs. Even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land,” said John Paul II at the martyrs’ 1984 canonization.

In 1989, at South Korea’s Olympic Gymnastics Hall, Saint John Paul II again pointed young people to look to those martyrs, as the Korean people continued to grapple with the peninsula’s division.

“Your martyrs, many of them of your own age, were much stronger in their suffering and death than their persecutors in their hatred and violence. Violence destroys; love transforms and builds up. This is the challenge which Christ offers to you, young people of Korea, who wish to be instruments of true progress in the history of your country. Christ calls you, not to tear down and destroy, but to transform and build up!” the Pope said.

“The Korean nation is symbolic of a world divided and not yet able to become one in peace and justice,” the Pontiff said on the same papal trip, “yet there is a way forward. True peace – the shalom which the world urgently needs – springs eternally from the infinitely rich mystery of God’s love.”

“As Christians we are convinced that Christ’s Paschal Mystery makes present and available the force of life and love which overcomes all evil and all separation,” St. John Paul II continued. “the Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ’s “peace” because it is the memorial of the salvific redemptive sacrifice of the Cross.”

When speaking of peace on the Korean peninsula, Pope St. John Paul II had the following reminder:

“We must listen carefully to Christ’s words: ‘I do not give (peace) as the world gives (it).’ Christ’s peace is not merely the absence of war, the silencing of weapons. It is nothing less than the communication of ‘God’s love that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.’”


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Catholic skater Yuna Kim lights the Olympic torch

February 9, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Seoul, South Korea, Feb 9, 2018 / 02:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic Olympic gold-medalist Yuna Kim lit the torch at the Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb. 9.

The Korean skating sensation has long expressed a desire to use her public role to share the light of Christ by witnessing to her Catholic faith in international competitions and performances.

Kim was honored as the final torch bearer to light the Olympic cauldron for this year’s games, after two athletes from the inter-Korean women’s hockey team, one skater from North Korea and another from the South, passed the flame along.

After making the sign of the cross as she stepped onto the ice to win gold in the 2010 Vancouver Games with a record-breaking score, Kim teamed up with Korean bishops for a national rosary campaign. Kim was seen wearing a rosary ring, which her fans had previously mistaken for an engagement ring, during her silver-medal performance at the 2014 Sochi Games.

The Olympian converted to the Catholic faith alongside her mother in 2008 after they came in contact with local nuns and Catholic organizations through her personal physician – also a Catholic – who was treating her for knee injuries.

At her baptism, Kim took the name “Stella” after Mary, Star of the Sea, and told a diocesan paper that during the baptismal rite she “felt an enormous consolation in my heart” and promised God to continue to “pray always,” especially before competitions.  

Kim has also been active in using her position as an opportunity for charitable works, volunteering and donating funds to Catholic Hospitals, universities, and other charitable organizations, and working alongside the Catholic bishops in Korea as a spokeswoman for Catholic charities in Seoul.

In 2012, Kim donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Salesian of Don Bosco to help support the missionary brothers in South Sudan and to establish Catholic Schools throughout the war-torn country, meeting with Salesian brothers in Seoul to personally deliver the gift.

She told Korean press that while visiting Africa in 2011 she “felt the need to help out children there,” and wanted “to offer what little support I can” to those in Africa.

Kim is now retired from competitive skating, but the 27-year-old has served as an ambassador for the 2018 Winter Olympics in her home country of Korea. She delivered the original presentation to the International Olympic Committee seven years ago, pitching South Korea as a potential host country, and has been present at most of the official events leading up to the games. She delivered a speech to the United Nations in 2017 advocating for the “Olympic truce” resolution.

Pope Francis said earlier this week that he is praying for the people of the Korean Peninsula during the Olympic games, “The traditional Olympic truce this year becomes especially important: delegations from the two Koreas will march together under a single flag and compete as one team. This fact gives hope for a world in which conflicts can be resolved peacefully through dialogue and mutual respect.”