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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Hallelujah Korea, Part XX: Uijeongbu Cathedral, Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province - Home of Diocese of Uijeongbu: Catholic influence in the Seat of State Council of Joseon

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Uijeongbu (Hangul/Hanja/Latin: 천주교 의정부교구/天主教議政府教區/Dioecesis Uiiongbuensis), also romanized as Uijongbu in McCune Format, is a particular church of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church in South Korea. It is the newest diocese in the historical site of Joseonese State Council, erected from the Archdiocese of Seoul on June 24, 2004 by the orders of Pope John Paul II, and a suffragan diocese of the same. The current bishop of this newly-born diocese is Peter Lee Ki-heon.

Its mother church is the Uijeongbu Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Mary (議政府聖堂) or also known as Uijeongbu 2-dong Cathedral by Uijeongbu citizens, located at 27 Sinheung Avenue 265th Street/Sinheungno 265beon-gil, Uijeongbu 2-dong 429-6 beonji, Uijeongbu City, Gyeonggi Province. The patron of the diocese is Saint Andrew Kim Dae-geon, the first native Korean Priest who martyred during Byeong-oh Catholic Persecution (병오박해/丙午迫害/Byeong-oh Bakhae). The diocese covers Northern Corridor of Gyeonggi Province (Paju, Uijeongbu, Namyangju, Yangju, Yeoncheon, Dongducheon, Guri and Goyang) which includes Catholic churches throughout the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Uijeongbu Cathedral was built in the closing year of the Korean War with much assistance from the Catholic soldiers of I Corps, US 8th Army. The church’s history actually goes back to the end of the Joseon era, when Catholics fleeing persecution formed a community in the Yangju area, where they took to making pottery. In 1927, their meeting hall was elevated to church status (meaning there was a resident priest), and in 1934, a church was built in Deokjeong-ri, Yangju County (Present-day Deokjeong-dong, Yangju City). This church, in turn, bought a Korean-style home in Uijeongbu in 1945 to use as a temporary church, but it was burnt down in the Korean War.

In 1953, the resident priest, Father John Yi Gye-gwang, asked for help from I Corps, 8th US Army, which was based in Uijeongbu. I Corps’ Catholic believers actively responded to Father Yi’s request, taking up a collection to build a new church. The money raised by I Corps was used to quarry granite from a nearby mountain, with local stonemasons fashioning the granite into the cathedral. The design of the structure was entrusted to a Father Rojeski, a Polish-American chaplain with I Corps. The cathedral was constructed in just six months.

Uijeongbu Cathedral which has been designated Gyeonggi Provincial Cultural Property Material No. 99, is representative of churches built during and immediately after the Korean War, especially around the DMZ. Compared to the earlier French-built churches, they are quite simple; whereas the earlier French churches took a long time to plan and build, churches of the 1950s were built in a hurry and under difficult conditions to replace destroyed facilities and to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of believers. Earlier French churches were built of brick, while these later churches were often built of stone — they were “fortresses of God,” protecting believers in a time of war. Many were constructed with the assistance of local military units, either American or South Korean. A perfect example would by the ruins of the Pocheon Catholic Church — recently designated a cultural property by the Cultural Heritage Administration — which was built in just five short months by the engineers of VI Corps, ROK Army on orders from its commanding general, a devout Catholic.

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