North Korea is the world’s most oppressive regime when it comes to religion, having been named the most dangerous country for Christians for the 14th consecutive year. Christians risk arrest, torture, and execution if they practice their faith. All religious activities are subjected to intense state scrutiny and the faithful are banned from gathering except in “state-approved” locations.
As such, there is only one Catholic church in all of North Korea, located in the capital of Pyongyang, known as Changchung Cathedral. However, no regular confessions, baptisms or other sacraments ever occur within the church as there are no Catholic priests in all of North Korea. On rare occasions, the North Korea government allows foreign visiting priests into the Cathedral to celebrate Mass.
Changchung Cathedral has no official ties to the Vatican, nor does North Korea’s official state sponsored “Korean Catholic Association”, which is controlled by the government.
In 2016 the KCA reached an agreement which allowed Catholic priests from South Korea to celebrate Mass in the cathedral on major feasts, such as Christmas and Easter. It is estimated that between 800 and 3,000 Catholics remain in North Korea, most of whom are elderly and had been baptized before the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.
Pyongyang, whose early 20th-century thriving Christian community was called the “Jerusalem of the East,” has no formal relations with the Vatican. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pyongyang was established in 1927, and its only official bishop, Francis Hong Yong-ho, was imprisoned by the communist regime of Kim Il-sung in 1949 and later disappeared, never to be found.The last official Catholic Church in North Korea was destroyed by the American military during bombing raids during the Korean War. Today, the Archbishop of Seoul acts as the Apostolic Administrator in Pyongyang.