Meet the first and last Catholic Bishop of North Korea who mysteriously disappeared
Francis Hong Yong-ho was the first and last bishop for the Diocese of Pyongyang in North Korea until his “disappearance” in 1949.
Little is known about the life of Francis Hong Yong-ho. He was born in Pyongyang on the 12th of October in 1906 and ordained to the priesthood on the 25th of May in 1933.
Eleven years after his ordination, he was named as the Apostolic Vicar to the Vicariate Apostolic of Heijō by Pope Pius XII in 1944. That same year, he was named the first – and last – Bishop of Heijō. Less than five years later in 1949, Yong-ho was imprisoned by the communist regime of Kim Il-sung and later “disappeared,” most likely perishing in a concentration camp.
On 10 March 1962, Pope John XXIII elevated Heijō to the Diocese of Pyongyang, “posthumously” naming Yong-ho as the bishop of the newly created diocese.
In 2006, Cardinal Nicolas Cheong Jin-suk of the Diocese of Seoul spoke on the tradition of the Holy See to list Yong-ho as missing rather than deceased.
“There’s no knowledge of priests surviving persecution that came in the late 1940s, when 166 priests and religious were killed or kidnapped. The Pontifical Yearbook continues to describe as “missing” the man who was the bishop of Pyong-yang at the time, Monsignor Francis Hong Yong-ho, who today would be a hundred years old. It’s a gesture by the Holy See to point to the tragedy that the Church in Korea has suffered and is still going through.”
However, in 2013, the Holy See recognized Yong-ho as deceased for the first time in over half a century. The move came after the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea asked the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for permission to open a beatification cause for Yong-ho which would require recognition of his death.
In 2017, the cause for canonization was underway for Yong-ho and 77 other martyrs that died during the religious persecution by the communist regime of North Korea: two bishops, 48 priests, three seminarians, seven sisters, and 21 lay people.
Bishop of Daejeon in South Korea and president of the beatification committee, Monsignor Lazarus You Heung-sik said “it will take at least ten years to achieve beatification and canonization, but for our people, these people are already holy.”
Yong-ho’s motto was Surgite eamus – “Arise, let us go forth” – a reference to Matthew 26:46, when Christ says to Peter, James, and John: “Get up, let us go. Look, my betrayer is at hand.”