Martyrs of Pyongyang and the war: the diocesan investigation for beatification ends

In Seoul, the special committee has completed the investigation for the beatification of Bishop Francis Hong Yong-ho and 80 other companions killed by the Communists in the 1950s. The papers will now go to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. Korean bishops hope that, against the background of “the harsh reality of the division of the country”, the martyrs’ witness will promote “reconciliation and unity”.


Seoul (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK) held a ceremony marking the end of the formal process of collecting witness accounts for the cause of beatification of the bishop of Pyongyang Francis Hong Yong-ho and 80 other martyrs killed by the Communists during the Korean War (1950-1953).

The prelate was imprisoned in 1949 and then disappeared along with 49 priests, seven men religious and 25 lay people tortured and killed during the war.

Back in 2008 the Bishops' Conference expressed the intention to ask for the recognition of the martyrdom of these witnesses to the faith.

In 2014 the canonisation process was officially opened by virtue of which – and with the authorisation of the Holy See – the martyrs officially became servants of God.

In 2017, the CBCK set up a special committee under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Seoul to collect all the available testimonies and witness accounts about these figures and translate them into English.

Placed in special sealed boxes, the papers will be sent to Rome and handed over to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints tasked with examining them.

Bishop Francis Hong Yong-ho (pictured) was born in Pyongyang in 1906. Ordained priest in 1933, he was appointed apostolic vicar by Pius XII to Heij┼Ź, the Japanese colonial-era name for Pyongyang, on 24 March 1944, and ordained bishop in June of the same year.

He has not been heard of since he was arrested by the Kim Il-sung regime in 1949. On 10 March 1962, Pope John XXIII elevated the Vicariate of Pyongyang to the rank of diocese, also as a sign of protest against the policy of the North Korean regime, appointing Bishop Hong, who became a symbol of the persecution against Catholics in North Korea.

Some 49 of the other servants of God whose martyrdom will be examined were from the Archdiocese of Seoul, while the rest came from the dioceses of Gwangju, Jeju, Suwon, Incheon and Chuncheon. The list also includes the then apostolic delegate to Korea, Bishop Patrick James Byrne, a Maryknoll missionary.

“Bishop Hong Yong-ho and his companions are different figures from the martyrs of the persecution era 200 years ago,” said Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick of Seoul during the closing ceremony of the work of the Special Committee. “They have shared with us the history of the 20th century, and are really part of our lives. They gave their lives to show what matters.”

For his part, CBCK President Bishop Mathias Ri Iong-hoon of Suwon added: “In the harsh reality of a still divided country in which the separation between North and South and ideological conflicts continue today, I sincerely hope that the promotion of the beatification of these martyrs will serve as a foundation for reconciliation and unity."