Saturday, July 9, 2016

Korean Martyrs of the North

Martyrs who have died for their faith are many in the history of Korea. In recent years we heard about the  martyrs that died during the years of the communist take over of North Korea.

The Korean bishops have asked the Vatican to open the beatification process for the bishop of Pyongyang Hong Young-ho and his 80 companions after the division of Korea in 1948. Rome has approved the request and the study of the information has begun.

On the list, we have a number of foreign priests of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, the Columban Fathers, foreign missionary nuns, Korean priests, religious sisters, seminarians and lay people and on the list are two Maryknollers: Bishop Patrick Byrne and Maryknoll Korean Sister, Chang Chong-on Agneta the sister of John M Chang (Chong Myon) who was ambassador, vice president, and prime minister of the Republic of Korea from 1960-1961.

Bishop Patrick James Byrne  a member of the Maryknoll Fathers was the first missioner chosen in 1923 to begin the work in Korea and is listed as one who has died for the faith in North Korea. He was named Prefect Apostolic of Pyongyang but in 1929 had to return to the States after being elected Vicar General  during the first society chapter. He returned in 1935 to a new mission in Kyoto, Japan where he helped to calm the people during the American occupation. In 1947  he was appointed as the first Apostolic visitor for Korea and in 1949 the first Apostolic Delegate to Korea.

In 1949 he was consecrated bishop in Myong Dong Cathedral,Seoul, and the following year the Korea War began. Knowing the imminent fall of Seoul to the invading army the Americans were advised to flee to Japan but he didn't want to leave his responsibility to the Church of Korea. He complained about the   persecution of the Church in the North and the imprisonment of Bishop Hong and the priests and Christians.

He was arrested in July and before a people's court with many other foreigners was imprisoned and was sentenced to die. He was transferred to Pyongyang and imprisoned again on July 19th. On Oct. 8th he was moved to Manpo and shortly after began the four-month death march.

Bishop Byrne became ill and finally died of pneumonia. Before he died he told those who were with him: "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 received the absolution the night before from Father William Booth a Maryknoll priest who was his secretary. Bishop Quinlan, A Columban priest and Prefect Apostolic of Chunchon recited the prayers at the gravesite. He died on November 25, 1950, at the age of 62 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

The great sadness is the fact that the age of the martyrs has not ended as we know from the daily news. In North Korea, we have no way of knowing the suffering of the Christians that remain.

For those who may be interested in more information about the Maryknoll Society and its  work in Asia you are invited to go these sites:  


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