"We have been in North Korea since May 12, bringing medical aid," Father Gerald Hammond, one of the five delegates, told www.asianews.it. "We have visited Pyongyang, Nampo, and the southeastern province of Pyengan. I am thoroughly convinced that permission for this visit was a gift from God."
Father Hammond is a superior for the Maryknoll community in Korea. He said the government's willingness to allow the delegation to enter had two motives.
"On the one hand, there is a real opening on the part of the government towards foreigners, even Catholics," Father Hammond said. "On the other, there is growing concern regarding the sharp increase in tuberculosis cases among the North Korean population, which at the moment affects more than 10%."
Of these, more than 30% are "vaccine-resistant -- only with correct care and modern therapies submitted over a long period of time can we hope to save lives," Father Hammond added.
Members of the delegation spoke with the health care minister about a permanent permission for the specialists.
"We spoke of the possibility of opening a TB study and research center in Pyongyang," the priest said. "This would be run and managed by both Koreas, and funded by the Church."
Father Hammond said the Church's commitment "is part of what I term as the 'apostolate of being present.' Even if there is no religious freedom in North Korea, it is vital that we become credible and accepted partners in dialogue for the good of the people.
"Our commitment is a tangible sign of the Pope's care for Korea, and of the aim to make sure the people of Korea who are one of the world's most suffering populations, do not feel abandoned."