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Saturday, 27 June 2015

Hallelujah Korea, Part XXIV: Wondong Cathedral, Wonju, Gangwon Province - Home of Diocese of Wonju and history of Korean Catholics under Park Chung-hee's Regime

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wonju (Hangul/Hanja/Latin: 천주교 원주교구/天主敎原州敎區/Dioecesis Voniuensis) is a diocese of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church located in Wonju, Gangwon Province. The diocese is a suffragan to the Archdiocese of Seoul. The current bishop of this diocese is James Kim Ji-seok.

Diocese of Wonju was formed by Pope Paul VI in March 22nd 1965. However, The diocese lost territory four years later when the Diocese of Andong was established on May 29th 1969. It covers southern bound of Gangwon Province (Wonju, Hoengseong, Taebaek, Jeongseon, Yeongwol, Samcheok, southern bound of Pyeongchang and former Bukpyeong-eup, Samcheok County in the present-day Donghae) and Northeast of Northern Chungcheong Province (Jecheon and Danyang). 

Back to the Southern Counterpart of Gangwon Province, only the Southern Bounds of Pyeongchang and Donghae are covered by the diocese of Wonju. The precincts and communes mentioned are:
  • Donghae (former Bukpyeong-eup, Samcheok County) - CheonGok-dong, Pyeongneung-dong, Songjeong-dong, Yongjeong-dong, Jiheung-dong, Hyoga-dong, Donghoe-dong, Naan-dong, Swaewoon-dong, Bukpyeong-dong, Guho-dong, Gumi-dong, Chuam-dong, Daegu-dong, Naedong, Hohyeon-dong, Danbong-dong, Jiga-dong, Gwiun-dong, Ido-dong, Samhwa-dong, Igi-dong, Iro-dong, Sinheung-dong, Bicheon-dong, Dalbang-dong
  • Pyeongchang - Pyeongchang-eup, Mitan-myeon, Bangnim-myeon, Daehwa-myeon

Its mother church is Wondong Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace (原洞聖堂), located at 27 Won-il Avenue/Wonillo, Wondong 85-4 beonji, Wonju City, Gangwon Province. The cathedral was built in August 17th 1896 as a branch cathedral of Pungsuwon Cathedral in Hoengseong County in the same province. However, the cathedral was heavily destroyed during the Korean War. In 1954, the cathedral was rebuilt at the current place with 120 pyeong (396.6942 sq m) of area.

Korean Catholics versus Yushin Constitution during Park Chung-hee's Regime Timeline
As Daniel Ji Hak-sun, the first Bishop of the diocese of Wonju announced a declaration of conscience and was detained on July 23, 1974, all Catholics shocked at 'a bishop's detention' in the first place. Ambassadors to Korea met Foreign Minister Kim Dong-jo and conveyed their intention to show clemency to Ji Hak-sun and those concerned with the National Federation of Democratic Young Students and the Holy See also expressed its opinion "This judgement will reach a fair settlement" on August 8. However, to tell the truth, the position of the Roman Catholic Church of Korea priests was very equivocal. They issued a statement in the name of the priests on July 25 shortly after Ji Hak-sun's detention and announced a statement at the level of standing committee of the priests on August but they did not make any position clear.

In such uneasy circumstances, Father Shin Hyeon-bong who had been nervous about chief of the diocese Ji Hak-sun's detention made a tour around the country to petition his release and Choi Gi-sik, who had happened to prepare for studying abroad in Seoul, removed to a Catholic publishing company at Myeongdong from the very beginning and kept pace with Shin Hyeon-bong. And foreign missionaries belonging to the Missionary Society of Saint Columban working for the Wonju diocese also made a resolution not to have a haircut and a shave until Ji Hak-sun was set free. In such course, fathers of the Seoul diocese of about the same age of Choi Gi-sik joined. Among them were Hahm Sei-ung who had studied at and returned from the Colegio Urbano seminary in Rome, Kim Taek-am, Yang Hong, Oh Tae-sun, Ahn Chung-seok and Kang Deok-pil. Situation prayers for urging Ji Hak-sun's release were held round the country and especially Kim Byeong-sang and Hwang Sang-geun from the Diocese of Incheon, Mun Jeong-hyeon from the Diocese of Jeonju, Lee Gye-chang from the Diocese of Daejeon, Song Gi-in from the Diocese of Busan and Ryu Gang-ha and Jeong Ho-gyeong from the Diocese of Andong were in real earnest and on the go.

In the meantime, Ji Hak-sun who had been behind bars tried to operate the Catholic Justice and Peace Committee in his charge actively. At that time, the Justice and Peace Committee exited in name only and had neither organization nor system at all. He nominated Father Park Sang-rae as a person responsible for it, drew up the statute of the Justice and Peace Committee on pulp paper and had it taken out of prison in secret. However, in an emergency, as it was kind of unreasonable to conduct the mission through any official channel, it needed another alternative. At last, on August 29, 23 priests of the Seoul diocese who had gathered at the priest hall at Myeongdong Cathedral, decided their official position about the Ji Hak-sun, recommended the priests to make a high profile clear and resolved to feel their way for a joint action.

It came to fruition in Wonju on September 23. At a seminar for clergy held on Wonju on 23 September prior to a prayer and praise meeting for martyrs held in Seoul on 26 September, some 300 priests attended. It is not too much to say that almost all fathers of the country had gathered when we consider there were all 639 ordinary priests in Korea. At the gathering, they agreed on forming the National Catholic Priests' Corps for the Realization of Justice (NCPCRJ) and resolved to keep on with the prayer meeting for restoring human rights and democracy. In addition, they decided to hold the first prayer meeting in the priests' name at Wondong Cathedral in the following day.

At a prayer meeting held at Wondong Cathedral, priests decided to stage a street demonstration. It was something new under the sun. As it was the first since Ji-Hak-sun had advanced the street in denouncing irregularities and corruption, there were not a few dissenters. Jang Il-sun and Kim Yeong-ju who had practical charge of presiding the prayer meeting in Wonju were afraid that any street demonstration might make Ji-Hak-sun's release rather more difficult.

However, hundreds of young fathers expressed their position that they should push away with it without splitting hairs and in the long run, they staged a demonstration by taking a round as far as the rotary via Wonju City Hall.

Two days later on September 26, the priests held a prayer meeting at Myeongdong Cathedral and issued the first declaration on the situation for the exclusive purpose of abolishing the Yushin constitution and restoring democratic constitutionality. The priests paraded a demonstration to the front of Myeongdong Police Stand and Shin Hyeon-bong was walked off to the police during the demonstration, The issued the second declaration on the situation (6 November) and a statement for realizing social justice (20 November), which elucidated under the sun that churches had started a campaign against the Yushin regime officially by announcing that "Any existing government should be subject to criticism according to the name and standard of the God's country and no democratic government shall be exempt regardless of whether or not it is legal.

The priests was an organic and voluntary organization which had neither its official representative not its membership list. Young fathers, who constituted a the main force, deemed Shin Hyeon-bong, who was a senor by ten years than them, as representative. As political matters were dealt with in Seoul district, especially on the scene of Myeongdong Cathedral and Hahm Sei-ung at Catholic Seminary and the fellow fathers of the Seoul diocese were the focus of dispute.

Fathers belonging to the priests also played a major role in 'the National Assembly for Restoring Democracy', a nationwide organization out of office formed on December 25, 1974. The National Assembly which consisted of 71 religious circles, academicians, journalists and leader out of office, included Kim Taek-am, Park Sang-rae, Shin Hyeon-bong, Yang Hong and Hahm Sei-ung. Father Yun Hyeong-jung became standing representative and Hahm Sei-ung served as spokesman. Father Yun Hyeong-jung held a new year's press conference requested Park Chung-hee regime to step down. In response to it, the priests held a 'prayer meeting for restoting human rights and democracy' with some 80 clergymen and about 2,000 Christians attending and announced a statement on January 9.

"We had carried a torch in the dark and had anxiously prayed and shouted for a restoration of humanity in the country according to the teachings of Jesus Christ who was our light for the last one year. However, our prayer was infringed on by the ruler and the vices of the ruler who looked away from truth and disobeyed conscience increased and deepened. The Word is denied, the words of a dictator are consecrated, churches are surveilled, dictatorial power is sanctified, freedoms of religion and press are persecuted and violence is used frequently by the man in power. The Word was distorted and general conscience of human beings were expelled by power for a reason that it was not ours".

On such movements Park Chung-hee denounced them as 'illusionary romantists' at an Armed Forces Day's laudatory address on October 1, 1974. Subsequently, on November 19, Kim Jong-pil threatened to judge those Christians who were criticizing the government in God's name by quoting Chapter 13 of the Epistle to the Romans "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God." at 'a prayer meeting for Prime Minister' hosted by the Korea Christian Businessmen Association. When Park Chung-hee was going to hold a referendum in February 1975, the priests conducted a campaign for boycotting it. The then Minister of Culture and Information Lee Won-gyeong criticized in a statement that "Recently, some religious figures are intervening too much in political activities and are repeating sayings or doings which could disturb legal order and instigate social disorder without knowing their place".

In the meantime, Ji Hak-sun was released after a referendum, the Catholic priests held a spring episcopal meeting and stated "It is necessary that churches should strive for to be of one accord in them and block misunderstandings from outside by reflecting themselves on the past doings and establishing an attitude to cope with similar situations in the future" in a message released on February 28. To be short, it implied to the effect that the problem of political participation in the future should be entrusted with not the priests but with the episcopate and the Justice and Peace Committee under the episcopate. As the priests took an active part in earnest so far and a lot of people, whether they were believers or not, gathered at the cathedral but not a few people were dissatisfied with such movements on the other hand. The episcopate called it in question.

But the priests no longer the clergymen who had campaigned for releasing Ji Hak-sun from the prospect of defending ecclesiastical authority. It's because they came to the world by digging a tunnel which unenlightened the real problems as mine workers digging out the truth locked in the dark listening to lectures on the situation and discussing by calling in specialists periodically before holding any prayer meeting. They met workers, farmers and urban poor people while they were shouting for restoring democracy and realized social changes as the first mission of churches. They volunteered to become not charity pots jingling at Christmas but churches which would extricate themselves from the misery on their own.