April 22 (UPI) -- North Korean Christians observed Easter Sunday at a Roman Catholic church in the capital, a Pyongyang propaganda service said Monday.
Ryomyong, a North Korea site run by the regime's national reconciliation council, said Monday Easter Mass took place at Pyongyang's Changchung Cathedral. The country's Korean Catholic association's central committee, North Korean and foreign residents were in attendance, according to the website.
North Korea has consistently ranked as one of the world's most religiously repressive societies. U.S. nonprofit Open Doors has said the regime ranks number one in the world for religious persecution.
The statement from Ryomyong on Monday appeared to have been issued to challenge outside perceptions that religion is banned in the country.
"The resurrected Jesus, who overcame the forces of death and evil, gave us peace," the North Korean church pastor reportedly said during the service. "Our people [of North and South] must join forces to realize the unification of the fatherland."
The church service included political commentary targeting the United States, according to Ryomyong.
"The United States is trying to make us turn back, railing against us in order to overthrow our system after disarmament," the North Korean pastor said. "We must sweep away the sanctions of the hostile forces with self-reliance."
North Korea's Jesuit committee on reconciliation has said there are "3,000 active Catholics" in the country; watch groups have said in North Korea Christians conceal their faith to avoid arrest.
The statement targeting U.S. policy comes at a time when South Korean and U.S. officials are reaffirming their alliance.
U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris said Monday the bilateral alliance is the "linchpin" to regional security and stability, Newsis reported.
Harris was meeting with lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun of the Liberty Korea Party, the conservative opposition.
During the discussion, Yoon said joint military drills must be restarted as soon as possible.
Large-scale drills have been called off and the policy prevails after North Korea tested a "new tactical guided weapon" last week.