North Korea’s fatal artillery attack has damaged the only Catholic Church on Yeonpyeong-do Island. All parishioners including Fr Joseph Kim Tae-heon, the parish priest, are safe as they evacuated to a bomb shelter as soon as the island came under North Korean shelling on 23 November.
While 80 percent of the residents have since left, the parish priest has opted to stay on the island with those remaining.
Two shells fell on the church premises. Windows of the main church building were damaged. The old rectory was partly demolished and a van was destroyed, said Fr Johannes Kim Yong-hwan, chancellor of Incheon diocese.
The tiny South Korean island, best-known for it crab fishing, near the maritime border with North Korea on the Yellow Sea has one Catholic Church. There are about 450 Catholics among the 1,700 local residents.
According to South Korea military, the surprise attack killed two marines and two civilians and injured 13 marines and three civilians. South Korean officials reported that the North fired 200 artillery shells onto Yeonpyeong-do Island setting more than 60 buildings ablaze. The South returned fire with about 80 artillery rounds.
The clash brought the North and South – technically still at war since the Korean armistice in 1953 – effectively undid recent tentative steps to renew ties. These have seen the South help the North with food aid and families united after living on opposite sides of the border since the Korean War.
South Korean Church officials have condemned the attack. “The relationship between the North and the South has worsened under the current South Korean government said Fr Johannes Kim Yong-hwan, chancellor of Incheon, which covers Yeonpyeong-do, the attacked island. He appealed for the South Korean government to introduce dialogue and "embrace the North."
Fr Baptist John Kim Hun-il, executive secretary of the Subcommittee for Aid to North Korea under the Korean bishops’ committee for reconciliation, said: “Aiming at civilians and civil houses is inhumane and it can cause further tragedy in the Korean peninsula." He also urged South Korea to stop the return fire and through dialogue persuade the North not to provoke such foolhardy attacks again.