Monday, May 28, 2007 at 1:01am

N. Korea martyrs slated for sainthood

The process has begun for the beatification of 36 North Koreans martyred during the 1949-'52 Stalinist regime of Kim Il-sung. The announcement was made Thursday by the Benedictine Waegwan Abbey in South Korea, which exercises ecclesial jurisdiction over the North Korean Abbacy of Tokwon, reported Sunday.

"The community of Order of St. Benedict Waegwan Abbey is full of aspiration to honor the witness of faith shown by our predecessors," said Abbot Simon Petro Ri Hyeong-u, apostolic administrator of the Territorial Abbacy of Tokwon.

The initiative has political implications, according to AsiaNews. Until now, the Seoul government exerted its influence to prevent the commemoration of these martyrs so as not to provoke a diplomatic incident with the northern regime led by Kim Jong-il.

The process is for the beatification of Benedictine Abbot Bishop Boniface Sauer, Benedictine Father Benedict Kim and companions. These men, according to Sabas Lee Seong-geun, vice postulator for the cause, "all died in the North Korean communist death camps during that terrible wave of anti-Catholic persecution after the communists came to power. We remember them together because in some way they are all linked to the Tokwon Abbey."

After the end of the Korean war in 1953, the Stalinist regime wiped out the three local ecclesiastical jurisdictions and the whole Catholic community. Not a single local priest was left alive and all foreign clergymen were expelled, AsiaNews said.

Vatican sources say Catholics in North Korea number 800, far fewer than the 3,000 recently acknowledged by the government.