An interesting suggestion from the bishops of South Korea to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints: start the process to beatify the bishop of Pyongyang. Rather than a fairly improper effort to underline the holiness of one of their own, the bishops instead point to the strange and worrisome story of Bishop Francis Hong Yong-Ho and the plight of all the faithful in North Korea, Catholic or otherwise.
According to the official records of the Holy See, he is the oldest serving bishop of the Church, at the age of 106. But paperwork and reality do not always match, and the reality is that no one has seen Bishop Hong Yong-Ho in the past 51 years. No one knows if he is dead or still lives in some North Korean re-education camp. The North Korean regime isn’t exactly friendly to any religion, and publicly belonging to any faith is a risky business in that country. There are no priests in North Korea that we know of, but the Holy See steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the state-imposed reality as far as the appointment of bishops is concerned. Several South Korean bishops are officially appointed as administrators of North Korean dioceses, but no ordinaries, since the regime does not allow any priest to exercise his ministry.
Bishop Hong Yong-Ho, appointed as Vicar Apostolic of Pyongyang in 1933, and then as its first bishop in 1962 (the date of his disappearance), is the only North Korean prelate of whom we don’t know his date of death.
Of course, we may assume that the bishop has been dead for a long time. But the continued listing of his name as ordinary of the North Korean capital is a silent but solid protest against the violently anti-religious regime in that country; As long as we don’t get to hear anything about the fate of our man, we are not going to acknowledge anything you say or do (or don’t say or do), that sort of stuff.
In the meantime, Bishop Hong Yong-Ho has unknowingly become a symbol of the Church’s stance against the totalitarian regime of the Kim family and the worship they demand from their subjects. A future Blessed Bishop Francis would not only once more bring the situation in North Korea to the world’s attention, but would also serve as an inspiration for Christians in similar situations in other countries.
Nota bene: Of course the Congregation for the Causes of Saints can’t suggest anyone for beatification if that person hasn’t died yet, so there seems to be an obstacle there.