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Seoul promotes cause of modern day martyrs

SEOUL (AsiaNews): South Korea has opened the process of beatification and eventual canonisation for two groups of martyrs; John Baptist Yi Byeok and his 132 companions; and Bishop Francis Borgia Hong Yong-ho, the first bishop of Pyongyang and his 80 companions.

Both groups have cleared the first hurdle and are at the servant of God stage.

Yi (1754 to 1785) and his companions died between 1785 and 1879 under the Joseon dynasty persecution. He came from a family of court dignitaries, who converted to Catholicism and later became one of the first families to try and spread the faith in Korea. All his family were also condemned for their faith.

One whose martyrdom is yet to be verified is Thomas Kim Pem-ou, who died in exile. By contrast, that of Alexius Hwang Sa-yeong (1775 to 1801) is certain. He is believed to have died by lingchi, dismembering of the body by using beasts of burden to pull the arms and legs in different directions.

All 133 were lay people, a sign of the unique history of the only lay-founded Church in Asia.

The second group is from the post-Korean War era from 1950 to 1953. Some died in the Jeju massacre (1901); and others during the era the Communists were in control.

Joseph Kim Sun-young had been sent to China as a missionary in 1930, during the period of Japanese rule in Korea.

Later he could not return and was arrested and sentenced in China to 15 years in prison. In 1972 he was released and died from exhaustion and hunger.

There are also two bishops, 48 priests, three seminarians, seven sisters and 21 lay people. Bishop Francis Borgia Hong Yong-ho (1906-?), the first bishop of Pyongyang, was listed as missing by the Vatican until 2013. He probably died in a concentration camp in North Korea.

There are also foreign missionaries, including the Maryknoll apostolic delegate, Bishop Patrick James Byrne (1888 to 1950), who died on a forced march.

This is the first time that the tribunal for the causes of the saints in Korea has considered anyone from modern times. Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik, from Daejeon, said, “It will take at least 10 years to achieve beatification and canonisation, but for our people, these people are already holy.”

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