The special committee for the Causes of Saints set up by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea has announced the start of the national process of beatification and eventually canonisation of two groups of martyrs: that of the Servant of God John Baptist Yi Byeok and his 132 companions, and that of the servant of God Mgr Francis Borgia Hong Yong-ho, the first bishop of P’yŏng-yang and his 80 companions.
The Vatican gave the committee a "national" and not "diocesan"
mandate since the martyrs examined belong to different dioceses in the
The first group consists of martyrs of the faith killed between 1785
and 1879, under the Joseon dynasty, like John Baptist Byeok Yi
(1754-1785), from a family of court dignitaries, who converted to
Catholicism and later became one of the first evangelisers of Korea. All
the members of his family were also condemned for their faith.
One whose martyrdom must be verified is Thomas Kim Pem-ou, who died in exile. By contrast, the martyrdom of Alexius Hwang Sa-yeong (1775-1801) is certain.
According to the latest research, he died by lingchi, dismemberment of the body from pulling of the arms and legs tied to four animals.
All 133 members of this group were lay people, a sign of the
importance of the laity in the early birth and spread of the Korean
The second group covers martyrs from Korea’s modern period. Some were
killed during the Jeju massacre (1901); others died from Communist
persecution after the Korean War and the country’s north-south division
Joseph Kim Sun-young is one the 81 from the second group. He had been
sent to China as a missionary in 1930, during the period of Japanese
rule in Korea. Later he could not return home and was arrested and
sentenced by the Chinese Communists to 15 years in prison. In 1972 he
was released and died from exhaustion and hunger.
This group includes two bishops, 48 priests, three seminarians, seven sisters and 21 lay people. Among them stands out Mgr Francis Borgia Hong Yong-ho
(1906-?), the first bishop of P’yŏng-yang, considered "missing" until
2013 by the Vatican. He probably died in a concentration camp in the
North (Photo : the last photograph of him with his priests).
This group also has some foreign missionaries, like the apostolic
delegate to Korea, Mgr Patrick James Byrne (1888-1950), a bishop and
Maryknoll missionary from the United States who was abducted by North
Koreans in Seoul and taken to the North on forced marches. He died
during one such march.
This is the first time that the tribunal for the cause of the saints
looks at witnesses to the faith in modern times. In the past, the Korean
Church had focused mainly on the early period of evangelisation in the
Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejeon and president of the committee, told AsiaNews
that "it will take at least ten years to achieve beatification and
canonisation, but for our people, these people are already holy."
In his view, "the prayer of the faithful and their desire to follow
the spirit of the martyrs" are also important aspects of the process.