Friday, November 1, 2013

Abbassador In Chains

History helps us to understand our present reality and the reasons for social change and development. The head of the Korean Bishops Conference, writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, reveals that the Vatican was the first official connection with the new Korean government after liberation from the colonial rule of the Japanese.

The connection with the Vatican, the smallest country in the world, says the bishop, actually began before the setting up of the new republic of Korea. Mutel, the bishop of Korea at the time, felt that the work required in Korea was too much for the Paris Foreign Mission Society and asked the Vatican for permission to invite the American Missionary Society of Maryknoll to take care of the work in the Pyongan Province in northwest Korea.

Pyongan Province, in 1920, had a population of 2,441,000, with 41,000 Protestants and only 4,800 Catholics. The Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith gave permission for the area to be handed over, in 1922, to Maryknoll, at which time Patrick J. Byrne was named the first superior. Fathers Cleary and Morris followed, and shortly after, in 1924, six Maryknoll sisters and other priests entered the country. Fr. Byrne was elected as Vicar General of the whole Society and returned to the States, with Fr. Morris taking his place as apostolic prefect.  At that time, the bishop points out, there were 36 missioners, 19  parishes, 134 mission stations and 17,738. Catholics.  A big difference from what it was 10 years before.

In order to help the Maryknollers, Bishop Mutel sent some of the young devout Catholics to the States to study.  Chang Myun (John) and five others were sent  to the Maryknoll Seminary. Fr. Walsh, the Maryknoll superior, helped them to get into college. And John Chang was sent to learn English at the Venard, a high school seminary where Fr. Byrne was the principal. He helped the young man with his growth in spirituality, and was an important influence as John Chang continued his studies, finally graduating from Manhattan College in 1925. He attended the beatification of the 79  Korean martyrs, as the representative of the young people of Korea. Although he was offered many openings in Seoul to teach, he decided to work with the Maryknoll Fathers as their language teacher, where he remained until 1931.

After liberation in 1947, at the request of the Korean Church, Fr. Byrne was selected by Pope Pius 12th to be his representative and first ambassador to Korea. In June Fr. Byrne was made a bishop and officially appointed the apostolic delegate to Korea. Although the bishop goes into some detail on the Korean War, he devotes the last section of the article to Bishop Byrne's last days in Seoul.

As a bishop during these difficult times, Bishop Byrne was, he says, a significant figure amidst the surrounding turmoil. So much so that he was told it would be best to leave but he said his place was with the Korean Christians, and refused to leave.  On July 17th the bishop and his secretary Fr. Booth, a Maryknoll priest, were arrested by the communists. They were tried by the peoples' kangaroo court, sentenced to death, and transferred to Pyongyang. In September they were made to walk the  "Death March" to the Yalu, during which he died of pneumonia. Before dying he said,  “After the privilege of my priesthood, I regard this privilege of having suffered for Christ with all of you as the greatest of my life.”  He was a good example of being with his people even at the price of death.

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