SEOUL, Aug. 12 (Yonhap) -- A group of 19 South Korean Christian pastors will visit Pyongyang this week to attend a joint prayer gathering, the South's unification ministry said Tuesday.
The ministry said it gave permission for the delegation from the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) to cross the border under its policy of promoting social and cultural exchanges with the North.
The group will head to the North on Wednesday for a four-day trip. It plans to hold a joint prayer service at Bongsu Church in the communist nation's capital on Friday, when Korea will celebrate the 69th anniversary of liberation from Japanese colonization.
"The government has constantly allowed genuine social and cultural exchange (with North Korea) in the non-political sector and it approved the trip this time in accordance with the position," the ministry said in a press release.
The NCCK hosted a similar prayer gathering for peaceful reunification with the North Korean Chosun Christian Federation at Bongsu Church in 2008. NCCK delegates also traveled to the North in 2011 and agreed to regularize such a cooperative program.
Bongsu Church, built in 1988, is known as one of North Korea's two state-controlled Protestant churches, along with Chilgol Church.
The North has been criticized for suppressing religious groups while operating a few churches, cathedrals and Buddhist temples to fool the outside world into believing the country's people have religious freedom.