Seoul (AsiaNews) – The process for the beatification of 36 North Korean Servants of God, who accepted martyrdom in the face of demands they renounce their faith during the Stalinist regime of Kim Il-sung, between 1949 and 1952 has opened.
The announcement was made by the Order of St. Benedict Waegwan Abbey in South Korea which exercises ecclesial jurisdiction over the North Korean Abbacy of Tokwon.
According to Abbot Simon Petro Ri Hyeong-u, Apostolic Administrator of Territorial Abbacy of Tokwon, “At the moment, the community of Order of St. Benedict Waegwan Abbey is full of aspiration to honour the witness of faith shown by our predecessors. Hereby, this abbey announces that it will play the role of 'actor' in the case for promoting the beatification and canonization”.
The initiative also has to some extent a “political” value. Upon till now, in fact the Seoul government has always exerted its influence to avoid the commemoration of these martyrs in order not to provoke a “diplomatic incident” with the present regime, led by Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung’s son.
The process is entitled “beatification Abbot Bishop Boniface Sauer (O.S.B.), Fr. Benedict Kim (O.S.B.) and companions”. These men underlines Sabas Lee Seong-geun (vice-postulator for the cause), “all died in the North Korean communist death camps during that terrible wave of anti-Catholic persecution after the communists came to power. We remember them together because in some way they are all linked to the Tokwon Abbey”.
At present, the Catholic Church in North Korea is in appalling conditions. Since the end of the civil war in 1953, the three local ecclesiastical jurisdictions and the whole Catholic community have been brutally wiped out by the Stalinist regime. Not a single local priest has been left alive and all foreign clergymen have been expelled. In the early years of persecution by Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s first dictator, an estimated 300,000 Catholics have vanished.
There are neither resident priests nor ecclesial structures. Thus following the erection of the first Orthodox Church in the capital last August, the Catholic Community is the only one not to have a minister for the faith.
According to Vatican sources, actual Catholics number 800, far fewer than the 3,000 recently acknowledged by the government. The so-called North Korean Catholic Association, an organisation created and run by the regime, claims to represent local Catholics. The Holy See has always discouraged visits by its leaders to Rome since there are still serious doubts about their legal and canonical status. There are strong suggestions that they are Communist Party officials, not Catholics.