Sunday, September 4, 2016

Beginning of the Pyongyang Diocese

A Korean  layman, Kim Gu-jong, 1898-1984, was written up in the  Peace Weekly in its series of  outstanding Christians. Kim Gu-jong was from the Taegu Diocese and went to the newly established diocese of Pyongyang as a missionary catechist. Seoul was not able to send priests so the work lagged behind the Protestants.

The article mentions how the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers were given the Pyongyang area as their first mission in Korea. Maryknoll was  established in 1910 as the Catholic Missionary Society of the United States to work in Asia. China was the first mission and Korea the second. Bishop Walsh, Maryknoll's superior on a visit to  Bishop Mutel in Korea showed an interest in beginning work in the country. Taegu had been making  plans to give one-third of their resources to begin a new diocese in the Pyongan Province but Bishop Mutel gave the area to Maryknoll and this was finalized by Propaganda Fide in 1922;   Maryknollers came the following year.

At the start of the new diocese, workers were necessary. When Maryknoll accepted the work there were 7 parishes, three major seminarians, and eight minor seminarians and a priest from the Seoul Diocese. Consequently, Maryknollers were  attentive  to recruiting salaried catechists for the work. Catechists taught in the parishes and mission stations, spread news within the diocese, determined the situation of the parishioners and related with the citizens.

They were the hope for evangelization and the advanced guard to prepare the field. Fr. Kim Song-hak was a priest who was working in Pyongyang when it was part of the Seoul Diocese and when the priests returned to Seoul he remained to advise the Maryknollers. He had worked in Taegu before it became an independent diocese and recruited Kim Ignatius for Pyongyang as a catechist.

One of the parishes was selected and this became the place where the Maryknollers would study the language and customs of the country. Kim Ignatius was a leader among the catechists and helped to form many of the other catechists. They began one of the first monthly magazines in the Church. Ignatius was present in most of the new works.  Pyongyang compared to the other dioceses led in the number of  catechists, at least one and up to 15 in a parish: women outnumbered the men.

On 1935 Oct.10th  for three days they celebrated the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Christianity in Korea. Pyongyang the youngest diocese was  selected to host the event. Five bishops and the Apostolic Delegate were present. 6000 Catholics attended. When this group arrived at the train station many thought that the  Apostolic Delegate was the emperor of Rome. Many of the Catholics of the mission stations would see a priest twice a year and this event brought the 5 bishops  with many priests to the diocese making it a noteworthy event.

In a period of ten years, the Catholic population of Pyongyang had a three-fold increase.The Catholics grew in confidence with the experience gained from the celebration. Two of the daily papers in their editorials expressed how the Church was breaking down walls between the classes and inaugurating   a new culture. The other mentioned the social work and with their beliefs, Catholics were able to overcome the difficulties and the history of persecution of the past: a good example to the citizens.

Demange, Florian(1875~1938), the first bishop of the Taegu Diocese while riding in the same car as the ordinary of Pyongyang John Morris, praised a one-time parishioner of the Taegu diocese, Kim Ignatius for a job well done.

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