Did atheist N. Korea's leaders really say they'll "pray" for Kim Jong-il?

Why have his successors called for three minutes of prayer at the end of his official mourning period?

With thousands of Christians in North Korean labor camps for refusing to deny their faith, it is nothing short of puzzling that the officially atheist nation has ordered its 24 million citizens to spend three minutes on Dec. 29, 2011 praying for late dictator Kim Jong-il.

An official portrait of the late Kim Jong-il

Kim, 69, died of an apparent heart attack over the weekend. His was a brutal reign with reports of entire families being executed for the possession of a Bible in their home.

So, why would his successors call for three minutes of prayer at the end of his official mourning period?

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According to Human Rights Watch, no freedom of religion exists in North Korea and  the government keeps four church buildings open only to create an illusion of religious freedom for official visitors.

The capital, Pyongyang, was a center of Christian activity between  1910 and 1945. However when the Communist Party took over, every church building in North Korea was destroyed. At least 166 Roman Catholic priests were executed or just disappeared, including Francis Hong Yong-ho, the Bishop of Pyongyang.

On the southern half of the Korean peninsula in the democratic Republic of Korea, Christianity is thriving. The capital, Seoul, is home to some of the largest megachurches in the world.

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Rob Kerby
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