Pentecost Golden Jubilee of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral; Funeral of Edge Hill’s former Vicar, Alan Godson; Arab Hope Maker Award to Cairo’s Mama Maggie; General Election June 8th 2017 – Election Notebook – recalling earlier contests.Parliamentary Questions raised by David Alton.

Pentecost and a Golden Jubilee

The eve of Pentecost was the perfect time to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Liverpool’s Cathedral of Christ the King.

The Cathedral choirs began the wonderful evening of celebration – beautifully organised by the Dean, Canon Anthony O’Brien – with choral vespers.

Guests then left the sanctuary and nave in what is affectionately known in Liverpool as “Paddy’s Wigwam” –designed by  Frederick Gibberd – to join a gala dinner below, in the Pontifical Hall of the Sir Edwin Lutyens crypt.

In 1969, as a newly arrived student in Liverpool – and two years after the cathedral had been completed – I first took in the breath-taking Trinity of light, that floods the interior of the cathedral, – yellow, blue and red stained glass,– and felt I was stepping through a coruscating kaleidoscope of iridescent colours.

Over the years that have followed I have been in the cathedral countless times but, most memorably, in 1982, on another Pentecost, 35 years ago, during the visit of Pope John Paul II. He arrived there, having processed along the city’s Hope Street, which links Liverpool’s two cathedrals. That historic visit sealed the Christian ecumenism that finally replaced bitter sectarianism.

In the cathedral he said:

“The Holy Spirit, who is the source of all unity, provides the Body of Christ with a “variety of gifts” (1 Cor. 12, 3), so that it may be built up and strengthened. As the Holy Spirit granted the Apostles the gift of tongues, so that all gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost might hear and understand the one Gospel of Christ, should we not expect the same Holy Spirit to grant us the gifts we need in order to continue the work of salvation, and to be reunited as one body in Christ? In this we trust and for this we pray, confident in the power which the Spirit gave to the Church at Pentecost.”

He told us that:


“There is no sin which cannot be forgiven, if we approach the throne of mercy with humble and contrite hearts. No evil is more powerful than the infinite mercy of God.”

My late mother accompanied me to that amazing Service.

As a girl in the West of Ireland her impoverished family were among countless people who gave a penny each week towards the building of a cathedral in a faraway city – built on the site of a work house where thousands of Irish people, fleeing a famine which claimed one million lives, had died of hunger, cholera and typhoid.

My son Philip, now a doctor in Liverpool and father of two little girls, came with me to last night’s celebrations.

Perhaps he and they will be present when the cathedral celebrates its centenary? As John Henry Newman once said “we are links in a chain.” 

Philip and I looked at the baptistery where one of his brothers and a sister had been baptised; at the sea-eagle lectern, designed by Sean Rice, and placed there in 2007 to mark the death of Fr.Paul Thompson, a priest of the cathedral, who had been Philip’s godfather and one of my closest friends. We looked at the Pentecost mosaic made by Georg Mayer-Marton, a Hungarian Jewish artist who escaped the Nazis, and whose work was carefully reassembled in the cathedral’s Chapel of Unity when, in 1989, Netherton’s Church of the Holy Ghost was demolished; and we passed the tomb of Liverpool’s singular Archbishop, Derek Worlock, buried in the cathedral in 1996. All links in Newman’s chain.

Georg Mayer-Marton's Pentecost mosaic Liverpool cathedral

A highlight of the evening was a poem written in 1967 for the opening of the cathedral by Liverpool’s pre-eminent poet, Roger McGough. He has rewritten it and added some extra stanzas for the Golden Jubilee:

“O Lord, so far so good. No bombs, no conversion into bingo hall or shopping mall. No demolition to make way for Metropolitan Hotel or student high-rise. Unscathed and soldiering on….What are five decades but a drop in the font, a gentle lap around the rosary? Until Iron Men swim down the Mersey and the Liver Birds take wing May your light shine out from Hope Street as we rejoice in Christ the King.”  

A lovely thought, this Pentecost.



May 20th 2017: The death was  announced of the Reverend Alan Godson, the former Vicar of St.Mary’s Edge Hill. The funeral took place on June 3rd at St.Mary’s Grassendale.

2017 Alan Godson Memorial Service

  He died peacefully, in his sleep. 

For more than three decades Alan was Vicar of St.Mary’s Edge Hill where, in 1972, after working in Manchester’s Catacombs, he took up the living of this inner city parish.  

I can be absolutely certain about the day, the time and the place where I first met Alan. 

It was May 3rd 1972.

 I was a 21-year-old student and fighting my first City Council election campaign in the inner city Low Hill Ward.

 It was the eve of poll and I was in Erskine Street, a street scheduled for demolition.

Someone – no guessing who – had the words “God Lives Here in the Slums” daubed on the gable end.

 Intrigued, and looking for a vote, I knocked on the door, and inevitably ended up being canvassed on behalf of God. 

 Half an hour later, and too late to knock on any more doors, I knew my time had been well spent and knew it wasn’t a coincidence but, rather, what Alan called a “Godincidence”.

  The following day, in May 1972, I was elected to the City Council and not long after, Alan, who had been working in Manchester’s Catacombs, took up the living at St.Mary’s, Edge Hill. At that time, Bishop Tom Williams was a curate in the local Catholic parish and the three of us became friends – and it is great to see him at the celebration of Alan’s life.

 I always thought that his renumbering of the St.Mary’s Vicarage as “JC4U” – while sometimes mystifying the postmen – was the essential clue in understanding Alan.

 It summed up what he most wanted for everyone that he encountered: JC4U.

Alan was an evangelist who never tired in his indefatigable zeal for souls – and I never saw him happier than during Mission England, in 1984, when the football stadium at Anfield was filled to capacity.

 But Alan didn’t need to wait for big events to evangelise you.

 He would pull up alongside a car in a traffic queue and ask the puzzled driver next to him what the letters JLY in his number plate stood for. As the driver scratched his head and Alan pulled away he would tell him “ JLY Jesus Loves You.”

His blue and red church posters told a similar tale. The acronyms of Liverpool’s two football clubs pointed to a much greater story: LFC – Liverpool For Christ; EFC – Everyone for Christ.  

 With one famous poster, he even made the national news. The Soviet Union’s atheistic Communist leader had made public declarations that there was no God.

 When Adropov died Alan ’s poster “Now Andropov Knows” led to complaints from the Soviet Ambassador. 

 Characteristically, Alan stood his ground, and used the opportunity to open people’s minds to the suffering of Christians at the hands of the Soviets.

 Among the many speakers Alan hosted at St.Mary’s was Richard Wurmbarnd, who had dared to say that Communism and Christianity were not compatible – and was imprisoned and tortured by the Romanian Communist regime for saying so.

 Wurmbrand said “Let us be on the side of those who sit in jails and are sentenced to death for their faith. Let us pray for them and help them”.  Alan never hesitated to do both of those things.

 Among Alan’s other great heroes was Corrie ten Boom – the Dutch watchmaker who helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust.

 Her Christian activism led to her imprisonment in a concentration camp.

 As an encouragement, Alan would often give her books to people and would ask her question: Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” and shared her belief that “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.” 

Alan saw the suffering and faith of men like Richard Wurmbrand and women like Corrie ten Boom as a rebuke to those of us whose faith is often so tepid, or lukewarm – Gethsemane Christians too often asleep at our posts.  

Alan had no fear of death – seeing it as a homecoming. He handed over what was unknown to a trusted and known God.  

In retirement he and his wife, Lesley, had been living in Aigburth, Liverpool – their home, appropriately, overlooking Liverpool Cricket Club. Having played rugby for his Cambridge College, in the 1970s Alan was one of the founders of Christians in Sport and came to represent, in his whole person, the phrase “muscular Christianity.”   For a birthday present his boys tracked down footage of the Varsity Rugby Match 1960- 1st Half Highlights – YouTube and Alan scoring a famous try for Cambridge:

Related image

Alan Godson's famous posters at St.Mary's

Right up until the end – and with the aid of an oxygen machine and the loving ministrations of his wonderful wife, Lesley, and the support of his three boys, Andrew, Jonathan and Stephen, Alan was still asking visitors and those who telephoned him “are you reading your Bible?”.  From his new vantage point I daresay – and rather hope – he will continue to give a not so gentle nudge when he sees us falling asleep at our posts. He will be greatly missed.

May he rest in peace.

2017 St.Mary's Edge Hill flag at half mast for Alan Godson

St.Mary’s Edge Hill. Flag at half mast for the Revd.Alan Godson.


The value of a human is incomparable to any other value…”  Mama Maggie – the Mother of Cairo – On Receiving the Arab Hope Makers Award

Mama Maggie

Great news that Mama Maggie – Maggie Gobran – has been chosen as one of the five Arab Hope Makers. Happy to have been one of her nominators. I have a chapter on the extraordinary work undertaken by “the Mother of Cairo” in my book, Signs of Contradiction. It was deeply inspiring to see  first-hand the phenomenal work of this Coptic woman among the poorest of the poor, especially abandoned children, in Cairo’s Garbage City.

Yesterday’s big celebration, in Dubai, was attended by more than 25000 who gathered in Dubai Studios city with the presence of Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum Vice President of United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, to choose and honour the winners of Hope Maker working in Arab countries from 65000 hope makers nominated. Sheihk Mohamed Bin Rashed surprised every one by awarding all 5 winners with the same prize of AED 1 million

Mama Maggie started her word by saying:” The value of a human is incomparable to any other value…”

This is the first initiative for recognition of its kind – for any positive action undertaken on a wide level within the Arab countries. Congratulations to Mother Mama – and to the UAE.

Maggie Gobran Signs of Contradiction 1

Maggie Gobran Signs of Contradiction 21

Maggie Gobran Signs of Contradiction 3


2017 General Election Notebook. jpg

Elected at Liverpool Edge Hill in 1979


Parliamentary Questions raised by David Alton over the last month on Overseas Aid, Targeting of Egyptian Copts, Syria, Primodos, North Korea, the Use of Chemical Weapons, IVF, Sudan, Religious Freedom, Burma, Morton Hall Inspection, Neglected Tropical Diseases, Asbestos in Schools, Scottish Devolution, Iraq and IS Genocide, Refugee Children, Assisted Dying.

Spending Aid Wisely and Effectively
April 26 2017

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the things that jeopardises sustainable development is a combination of conflict, where there is the need to bring conflict resolution, and corruption? In the light of the Government’s welcome announcement that they will sustain development programmes and funding for development overseas, will he tell us what priority a new Government are likely to give to combating conflict in situations such as South Sudan, where famine has come as a direct result of it, and dealing with corruption, where aid money can be embezzled and misused?
Lord Bates

The noble Lord is absolutely right. We have said that the 0.7% commitment stands, but we are also absolutely resolute that there needs to be reform of the international aid system to ensure that that hard-earned money, provided by British taxpayers and other taxpayers from around the world, gets to where it is most intended. That is why we are behind arguing for global goal 16 on peace and security—because, without peace and security, there can be no development or growth. That is also why we have committed the large sum of money—£100 million—to South Sudan and to the other areas which are touched by famine at present.

 To view the answers to the following Questions Click on the Heading: 

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: North Korea (24 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the number of North Korean nationals who have entered UK territories in the last five years, other than those accredited as diplomatic staff working for the DPRK Embassy in London.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Developing Countries: Diseases (20 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Bates on 3 April (HL Deb, cols 930–1) concerning neglected tropical diseases, what study the Department for International Development has made of the use of technologies to map neglected tropical diseases using remote sensing technologies and mobile smartphone technologies.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Africa: Snakes (20 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Bates on 3 April (HL Deb, cols 930–1) concerning neglected tropical diseases, how they are responding to Africa’s need for anti-venoms to treat snake bites, following the cessation of production by the major manufacturer.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Developing Countries: Sleeping Sickness (20 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Bates on 3 April (HL Deb, cols 930–1) concerning neglected tropical diseases, what further progress they expect to make in the elimination of sleeping sickness.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Egypt: Christianity (19 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assistance they have offered the government of Egypt to protect Egypt’s Coptic population from ISIS, following reports of targeted attacks, killings, and forced conversions.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (19 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of reports of human rights violations committed by the government of North Korea against its exiled citizens, and of some exiled North Koreans having become UK citizens, what is their response to the recommendation by the UNHCR group of independent experts on accountability in their report to the 34th session published on 24 February that UN…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Chongryon (19 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are aware of (1) members of Chongryon, formerly known as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, entering or doing business in the United Kingdom, and (2) whether Chongryon members have had any interactions with diplomats from the DPRK Embassy in London, in the last five years.

Written Answers — Home Office: Asylum: Balkans (18 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the joint report from the International Rescue Committee and 11 other organisations, Out of Sight, Exploited and Alone, concerning unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) in the Balkans, and its principal concerns of (1) insufficient and unreliable data or information management on UASC within the region, (2) a lack of…

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: North Korea (18 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, what steps they are taking to ensure that North Korean nationals who enter UK territories are not involved in any unlawful activities.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Hong Kong: Politics and Government (13 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of the People’s Republic of China concerning political developments in Hong Kong; and whether they have called for undertakings in the Basic Law to be honoured.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: British Nationals Abroad (13 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, including through the British Embassy in Pyongyang, to ensure that the government of North Korea does not breach the Vienna Convention; and what advice they are offering to British nationals in, and travelling to, North Korea regarding their safety, in the light of the temporary ban imposed on Malaysian diplomats from leaving…

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to paragraph 2.8 of the minutes of 9 March 2017 of the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regarding babies born following pronuclear transfer between embryos, what procedures are in place to (1) identify whether a child born following pronuclear transfer is born with (a) a mitochondrial disease,…

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 March (HL6261), whether the Expert Working Group on Hormonal Pregnancy Tests will review the reasons why tests on Primodos, which remained on the market until 1978 despite the publication of a study in 1967 indicating a causal relationship between hormonal pregnancy tests and congenital…

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to paragraphs 2.8, 2.9 and 3.17 of the minutes of 9 March 2017 of the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, regarding the follow-up of children born following pronuclear transfer between embryos, who is responsible for the follow-up programme in NHS England; what health, genetic and epigenetic parameters…

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 March (HL6261), whether they will meet with Marie Lyon and representatives of the Primodos victims support group.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (6 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 March (HL6261), whether the Expert Working Group on Hormonal Pregnancy Tests will review (1) the terms of reference of (a) the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, and (b) the Metabolic Research Unit, when determining what lessons may be learnt for further improving existing regulatory…

Syria: Chemical Weapons – Private Notice Question (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in welcoming the swift response of Her Majesty’s Government and the reply that the Minister has just given to the Question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, perhaps I might press the Government further on the use of chemical weapons. We have now seen chemical weapons used twice in Syria, but they have also been used, allegedly, in Darfur by the regime of President…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Terrorism (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 5 November 2015 (HL 2969) which stated that “the DPRK is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since 1987”, whether they classify as the sponsoring of terrorist acts (1) the plot by a North Korean defector to kill Park Sang-hak in 2012, (2) the plot by two North Korean military…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Islamic State (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the discovery of a further mass grave in Khafsa, Iraq, what progress is being made in establishing international judicial mechanisms to bring to justice supporters of ISIS who are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Electronic Warfare (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) North Korean cyber attacks, and (2) reports that the regime has been responsible for a $81 million bank cyber heist.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Religious Freedom (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what instructions have been given to FCO country desk officers to ensure that freedom of religion or belief is included in their work.

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the award by the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority of a licence to Centre 0017 to carry out pronuclear transfer between embryos to prevent transmission of serious mitochondrial disease, what safeguards Centre 0017 has put in place to ensure that early pronuclear transfer will take place during treatment at…

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to paragraph 2.3 of the minutes of 9 March 2017 of the Licence Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which non-CE marked reagents will be used by Centre 0017 for the purposes of treatment involving pronuclear transfer between embryos to prevent transmission of serious mitochondrial disease; which laboratories will…

Written Answers — Department for International Development: Religious Freedom (4 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government why no reference to (1) targeted and persecuted religious minorities, or (2) the fundamental human right of freedom of religion and belief, is made in the goals specified in the Department for International Development policy paper, Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals.

Neglected Tropical Diseases – Question for Short Debate (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to support my noble friend Lady Hayman and salute her dogged persistence in raising the issue of rare and neglected tropical diseases. In doing so, I should mention that I am a vice-president of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and have been associated with the school in one way or another for the best part of 40 years. I particularly pay tribute to…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Burma: Human Rights (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the Interim Report and recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State; and what representations they will make to the government of Burma regarding the implementation of those recommendations.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they supported the appointment of a representative of the government of Sudan as Vice Chairman of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons; and, in making this appointment, what account was taken of the allegations by Amnesty International that chemical weapons have been used against the civilian population of Sudan, and of the…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Chemical Weapons (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have supported the call by Amnesty International to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government of Sudan against the civilian population of that country; whether the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons is conducting an investigation, or plans to do so; and if not, what action they have taken in response.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Terrorism (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 3 November 2015 (HL2960), what assessment they have made of the terror threat to UK nationals, including those who are North Korean refugees and human rights workers in North Korea, from the government of North Korea and its diplomatic personnel.

Written Answers — Scotland Office: Sovereignty: Scotland (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have held with the Scottish Government concerning the inclusion of a third option, offering further devolution of powers to Scotland, in any future Scottish independence referendum; what assessment they have made of the benefits of including such an option; and whether they have ruled out its inclusion.

Written Answers — Home Office: Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Report on an unannounced inspection of Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published on 21 March.

Written Answers — Home Office: Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (3 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the findings of the Report on an unannounced inspection of Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published on 21 March, in particular that (1) too many detainees were held for prolonged periods, (2) the average length of detention was high, (3) children were detained for long periods of time due…

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: EU Nationals (30 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 23 March (HL6077), whether they will prepare and publish a draft bill with a view to its introduction as soon as agreement on the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK has been reached.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Trade Promotion (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government why, in a video published by the British Embassy in Khartoum on 19 February, to promote UK business and investment in Sudan, the British Ambassador to Sudan did not refer to human rights and genocide charges brought against the regime.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sudan: Trade Promotion (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have imposed a requirement for unhindered humanitarian access and the cessation of hostilities prior to increasing the number of UK trade deals with the Republic of Sudan.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Sky News documentary Primodos: The Secret Drugs Scandal; and whether they will consider establishing a public inquiry into the alleged failure of the regulator at that time to protect public safety.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Primodos (29 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what funding they are providing to researchers based in (1) Cambridge, and (2) Aberdeen, who are examining the composition of the drug Primodos and its likely effects on the child in the womb.

Written Answers — Department of Health: Congenital Abnormalities (28 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 20 March (HL5811), why they do not maintain a list of foetal anomalies that cannot be identified before 24 weeks gestation.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Islamic State (5 Apr 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the discovery of a further mass grave in Khafsa, Iraq, what progress is being made in establishing international judicial mechanisms to bring to justice supporters of ISIS who are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answers by Earl Howe on 26 October 2010 (HL2589, HL2591, HL2592, and HL2593) concerning the drug Primodos, and to the remarks by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health on 23 October 2014 (HC Deb 1139) concerning oral hormone pregnancy tests, and in the light of the Sky News documentary Primodos: The Secret Drugs…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Assassination (27 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that North Korea has issued orders to assassinate a British businessman who helped to facilitate the defection of North Korea’s then deputy ambassador to London.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (27 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce human rights sanctions against North Korea, in line with those imposed by the United States.

Written Answers — Department for Education: Schools: Asbestos (23 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the responses made by local authorities to freedom of information requests made by Lucie Stephens regarding reported incidents of asbestos exposure in schools; and what guidance they have given, or plan to give, to local authorities about the publication of such reports.

Written Answers — Home Office: Immigration: EU Nationals (23 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will introduce a bill guaranteeing the right of EU nationals who were legally resident in the UK at the time of the EU referendum to remain in the UK.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Armed Conflict (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the reports of fighting last week in Sinjar, between Kurdish forces, Peshmarga and PKK, and of the reported displacement of Yazidi families from Sinjar; and what is known about their whereabouts and well-being.

Written Answers — Home Office: Asylum (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the report by the British Red Cross Can’t Stay, Can’t Go concerning refused asylum seekers who cannot be returned.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: English Language (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the report by Refugee Action Locked out of learning: A snapshot of ESOL provision in England concerning the waiting times to access English language classes faced by refugees.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Families (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the briefing note by the Refugee Council, Oxfam UK, the British Red Cross and Amnesty International UK Together again: Reuniting refugee families in safety – what the UK can do.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Families (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to UNICEF UK’s examination of the risks facing refugee and migrant children crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy in their report A deadly journey for children: The central…

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Families (21 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 9 February (HL Deb cols 1860–1861) about unaccompanied child refugees, what is their response to the statement by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner published on 22 February, in particular with respect to his call to address the strain on the Dublin III system; and when they intend…

Digital Economy Bill – Report (2nd Day) (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I supports the amendment proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Janke, but also the remarks of my noble friend Lady Howe. I want to ask the Minister, when he comes to reply, about an issue that I raised in your Lordships’ House previously, and that is the issue of suicide sites on the internet. It concerns me that young people can be encouraged to visit those…

Digital Economy Bill – Report (2nd Day) (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I support Amendment 25YD in the name of my noble and learned friend, to which she spoke so well earlier on, and the comments of other noble Lords in the debate so far. The problem with coming to this point in legislation, which has proceeded all the way through the other place and is now on Report in your Lordships’ House, on a day when some 174 government amendments have been laid, is…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Religious Freedom (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 1 March (HL5421) stating that it is their policy to promote freedom of religious belief, why there was no mention of freedom of religion or belief in the UK’s opening statement at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Egypt: Christianity (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of Coptic Christian families in Egypt who have been forced to flee North Sinai province following a number of killings in recent weeks by suspected Islamist militants; and what representations they have made to the government of Egypt about those reports.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Diplomatic Relations (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the remarks by David Slinn, the former UK Ambassador to North Korea on 24 January, concerning the difficulties of negotiating with Kim Jong-un.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed with the European Union and individual EU member states (1) the use of North Korean labour, (2) the use of European bank accounts by North Korean nationals in the EU, and (3) a united response to the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and if so, when those…

Written Answers — Department of Health: Congenital Abnormalities (20 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what conditions for which there is a high probability that the foetus will die at, during, or shortly after delivery due to serious foetal anomaly are unable to be identified before 24 weeks gestation.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Human Rights (17 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 28 February (HL Deb, col 714), whether at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council they will support recommendations (1) to establish an ad hoc tribunal, or (2) to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court.

Written Answers — Department of Health: In Vitro Fertilisation (17 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 28 February (HL5495), whether, and if so when, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) directly requested any evidence from Dr Valery Zukin or members of his team since publishing its report on 30 November 2016; what assessment it has made of that evidence; whether it has…

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I shall be brief. I enthusiastically support the remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Young, has just made, notwithstanding the minor caveat that I entered the Chamber as he was replying to the previous order and note the unnecessary duplication and replication which can cause confusion. I encourage him, and the Government generally, to stay in touch with the local authorities that…

Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) (Amendment) Order 2017 – Motion to Approve (16 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: Just before the Minister leaves that point, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was making the point that as we go forward it will be important to keep under review how the provision actually works out in practice. I fully support the order being laid before your Lordships’ House, and the next one, which deals with Liverpool and the Merseyside area, where there is agreement…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: South Sudan: Armed Conflict (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what new initiatives they are taking to (1) stop the fighting in, (2) curtail the flow of weapons to, and (3) bring about better conditions for humanitarian aid to reach the people of, South Sudan.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: South Sudan: Arms Trade (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), whether they intend to ask the UN Security Council to reconsider imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Burma: Rohingya (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the statement by the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide on 6 February, that (1) the scale of violence alleged to have been perpetrated by the Burmese security forces against the Rohingya community amounts to “dehumanization”, and (2) the existing government of Burma commission is not a credible option to undertake a…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Burma: Rohingya (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether the existing government of Burma commission investigations into allegations of sexual violence in Rakhine State are credible and being conducted in line with the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Written Answers — Department for Education: Refugees: Children in Care (14 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to (1) the correspondence sent by Lord Alton of Liverpool on 20 February on behalf of ECPAT UK concerning missing, trafficked and unaccompanied children, and (2) the findings of the report by ECPAT UK, Heading back to harm, published in November 2016, that (a) a number of local authorities were unable to provide figures on the…

Written Answers — Department for Education: Schools: Asbestos (13 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to protect children and teachers from the dangers of asbestos, in the light of the findings of the Education Funding Agency in their reports published in February, and of the information released in the Freedom of Information request 201607236, of August 2016, that 319 teachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980,…

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Children (9 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to respond to the statement by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, published on 22 February, concerning the protection of unaccompanied child refugees against modern slavery and other forms of exploitation.

Written Answers — Home Office: Refugees: Children (9 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to respond to the recommendations made by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner on 22 February, on (1) safe refuge for child refugees under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016; (2) safe refuge for child refugees under the Dublin III Regulation; (3) working with partners to improve protections in Europe; and (4) working to address the…

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what humanitarian access is available to NGOs in Unity State; and what is their estimate of the percentage of South Sudan’s population that remains inaccessible to agencies seeking to provide food to those affected by famine.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what progress has been made in ending South Sudan’s civil war; and how many people they estimate (1) have been displaced, or (2) have become refugees, as a consequence of the war and conflicts in the neighbouring areas of the Republic of Sudan.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), what is their estimate of the number of children in South Sudan now affected by malnutrition.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), how much new money has been allocated to alleviate famine in South Sudan; to whom it has been (1) allocated, and (2) given; and how it is being used.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), and to the statement by the Secretary of State for International Development on 22 February announcing new packages of life-saving UK aid for South Sudan and Somalia, how much new money is being made available and allocated for use in South Sudan.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), when the new money allocated to help famine victims in South Sudan was signed off; who are the intended recipients of that funding; and whether any of that money has been allocated to (1) the government of South Sudan, (2) NGOs, or (3) UN agencies, and if so, how much.

Written Answers — Department for International Development: South Sudan: Famine (8 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bates on 23 February (HL Deb, col 411), who is coordinating international efforts to help the victims of the famine in South Sudan; and what meetings the Minister and Secretary of State have convened with their international counterparts to ensure an effective response to the famine.

Assisted Dying – Question for Short Debate (6 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Baroness’s Question asks whether legislation in North America on what is called “assisted dying” forms an appropriate basis for such legislation here. I will answer that question in just one word: no. Quite apart from any issues of principle, just look at what is now happening in Oregon. When Oregon’s assisted suicide law was enacted, it was to…

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Iraq: Islamic State (6 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 8 February (HL5121), how many projects are actively collecting evidence against perpetrators of violence, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Iraq, and what are the objectives of each project.

Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Syria: Islamic State (6 Mar 2017)

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 8 February (HL5121), whether they are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made in the collection of evidence by the Independent Mechanism established by UN General Assembly resolution 71/248 regarding war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by members of Daesh.

Tolkien: Faith and Fiction – Liverpool Hope University Lecture marking the fiftieth anniversary of J.R.R.Tolkien’s involvement in the translation of the Jerusalem Bible and the link between his faith and his fiction. Accompanying presentation slides and full text may be viewed here.



Tolkien: Faith and Fiction

click here to view the power point presentation which accompanies the following lecture:

faith-in-the-work-of-tolkien – view full powerpoint presentation accompanying the lecture

tolkien-faith-and-fiction-liverpool-2016 Text

 Liverpool Hope University, November 2016.

David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool.


This year, 2016, marks 50 years since, in 1966, the English edition of the Jerusalem Bible was published.


The translation was undertaken here at Hope, at what was Christ’s College, my old College. The work was led by the brilliant scripture scholar, Fr.Alexander Jones.

J.R.R.Tolkien was one of those who contributed to the translation and it includes his translation of the Book of Jonah and an acknowledgement of his role.

Fr.Henry Wansborough OSB said “It was the first translation of the whole Bible into modern English to appear. It was an iconic presentation of the best of Catholic biblical scholarship in the previous half century.”

When, in 1969, I came here as a student, my first purchase was a still greatly prized and now well-worn copy of the JB, the Jerusalem Bible.

Jonah is among the books of the prophets – and once given the Word they are compelled to speak it: Amos cries “The Lord Yahweh speaks, who can refuse to prophesy?”

And of Jonah and the other prophets, Alexander Jones said “At a point in each of their lives each received an irresistible divine call and was chosen as God’s envoy. The price of attempting to elude this vocation is stated in the early part of the story of Jonah.”

He says Jonah is unlike the other prophetic books because “this short work is entirely narrative. It tells the story of a disobedient prophet who first struggles to evade his divine mission and then complains to God that his mission has, against his expectations, been successful.”

I can’t help speculating that Alexander Jones may have had another reluctant hero in his mind when he asked the creator of home-loving risk-averse reluctant-hero Hobbits to collaborate in the translation of the Book of Jonah.

And like many aspects of Tolkien’s work, Fr.Jones reminds us that the story of Jonah which he describes as a droll adventure, taking us from the “the belly of Sheol” – to the city of Nineveh, is precisely that – a story, not history; a “didactic work” that is “intended to amuse and instruct” and which “proclaims an astonishingly broadminded catholicity.”  

God is merciful to all, even to the rebellious Jonah. The lessons of mercy, humility and repentance are given to the Chosen People at the hands of their sworn enemies.

You can see why Tolkien would have been entirely at home with this Book and these themes.

The Book of Jonah concludes with God explaining, with great love mixed with some gentle irony, that He will not only be merciful to Jonah, the reluctant prophet, but also to the repentant Ninevehites and their little children “who cannot tell their right hand from their left,” and proclaiming still further, His love of all His Creation “to say nothing of all the animals.” 


The story of Jonah is also a dramatic prefiguring of the only story which really matters: Jonah’s three days in the belly of the great fish prepares us for Christ’s three days in the tomb. Fr.Jones says that at this moment in the Old Testament “We are on the threshold of the Gospel.”

Tolkien would describe such a turn of events in a story as a “eucatastrophe,”   – a word to which I will return at the conclusion of my remarks.

I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth.” 


For Tolkien the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ of human history was the resurrection of Christ from the tomb. So its preconfiguration in the biblical Book of Jonah is a pretty good place to start when considering Tolkien, Faith and Fiction.


Tolkien, himself, said that The Lord of the Rings was “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”. What did he mean by that and what clues are there in the characters, the tales within the tale, and within the plot itself?  


Let me divide my remarks into 3 parts:

  1. How Tolkien’s experiences shaped his beliefs;
  2. What Tolkien tells us himself; and
  3.  How faith shapes the characters, and the story lines.



  • 1. How Tolkien’s experiences shaped his beliefs.


Born in Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State, in 1892, his father died in 1896, and his mother, Mabel Suffield, returned to England, to the Midlands. Her conversion to Catholicism, in 1900, led to her rejection by her mixed Baptist, Unitarian and Anglican relatives. She was reduced to poverty.

Struggling as a widow, and shunned by her family, Mabel sought solace and help from the Catholic community of the Birmingham Oratory.


The Birmingham Oratory – whose full title is the Congregation of the Oratory of St.Philip Neri and is located in the Edgbaston district of Birmingham, was founded in 1849 by Blessed John Henry Newman, who died in 1890, two years before Tolkien’s birth. 

It was the first house of that Congregation in England and Newman, a celebrated Catholic convert, had been given permission by Pope Pius IX to establish a community of Oratorians in England and Newman lived a secluded life there for the best part of four decades.


Newman had died only ten years before Tolkien, in his childhood, spent nine years as a parishioner of St. Philip’s and attended the parish school before winning his scholarship to the Birmingham’s King Edward’s school.

In 1904, after the death of his mother at the age of 34, a death “hastened by the persecution of her faith”, as Tolkien remarked in 1941, he was shunted between relatives until a lodging was found for him by an Oratorian priest, Father Francis Morgan, who was his legal guardian.

In 1963 Tolkien wrote about the effect that these experiences and formative years had on him: “I witnessed (half comprehending) the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the Church.”

His great closeness and devotion to the Theotokos – Mary, the Mother of God – began with the premature death of his own mother. He said that Mary “refined so much of our gross manly natures and emotions as well as warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion.”

Of Fr.Francis he wrote: “I first learnt charity and forgiveness from him” and he said that he taught him the story of his Faith “piercing even the ‘liberal’ darkness out of which I came, knowing more about ‘Bloody Mary’ than the Mother of Jesus – who was never mentioned except as an object of wicked worship by the Romanists.”

The backdrop to Tolkien’s childhood was rejection and sectarianism but his connection with the Oratory gave him a love of the mystery of the sacraments but it also taught him to honour Scripture and tradition along with the teaching authority of the Church, grounded in the apostolic succession. He believed that Christ was, in the words of Newman’s hymn, Praise to the Holiest in the Heights, the Second Adam who to the rescue had come – sanctifying history and saving each of us.

And can we not see in Tolkien’s fiction, and the quest and mission of the Hobbit, something of Newman’s belief that:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. ..I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons….”

Newman had been the most influential Catholic in the English speaking world during the nineteenth century and his Apologia and love of St.Augustine were the scaffold on which Tolkien’ s faith was hung.

Newman had insisted that “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”; that “We are answerable for what we choose to believe.” that “Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it”; that Growth is the only evidence of life.” That “fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning” and that “The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men”.


The young Tolkien would have heard a great deal about Newman and studied him carefully – not least his famous treatise on the purpose of a university – the world in which he would spend his professional life:

“The University’s…. function is intellectual culture… It educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.”


   While at King Edward’s, Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman formed a secret society which they called the “T.C.B.S.” – the acronym meaning “Tea Club and Barrovian Society”. The name had its origins in their fondness for drinking tea at the nearby Barrow’s Stores and, illicitly, in the library of their school.

   From King Edward’s, Tolkien won an exhibition to Exeter College, Oxford in 1910, and graduated with First Class Honours in 1915.

    He showed early promise as a philologist and gifted linguist with a remarkable facility to decode ancient languages. He used these gifts in scholarship and in prose and the study of legend, folklore and poetry.

   In 1914 he read a poem by the Anglo-Saxon Christian poet, Cynewulf. He wrote later about how two lines of the poem Crist (Christ) remained with him:

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast

Ofer middangeard monnum sended!

Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,

Above the middle-earth sent unto men!


The friends of the T.C.B.S stayed in touch after leaving school, and in that same year, 1914, met at Wiseman’s London home for a “Council.” 

In many respects the T.C.B.S foreshadowed the Kolbitar (Coalbiters) which Tolkien would form at Oxford in 1925 – and which was devoted to reading Icelandic sagas. Lewis attended their meetings and, in the 1930s, from this fellowship of friends would finally emerge the Inklings – more of which, later.


In Birmingham Tolkien had met Edith Bratt, with whom he fell in love; he also commenced his practice of daily Mass attendance, which he continued throughout his life.

Fr.Morgan counselled him not to rush into marriage but, having been commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers, he feared that he might be killed. He and Edith, who was received into the Catholic Church, married in 1916.

 After seeing action in the Somme, acting as Battalion Signalling Officer – and, having contracted trench fever, Tolkien spent the rest of the war as an invalid.

The news from his friends in the TCBS was bleak. On July 15, 1916, Geoffrey Smith wrote to tell Tolkien of Rob Gilson’s death: My Dear John Ronald, I saw in the paper this morning that Rob has been killed. I am safe but what does that matter? Do please stick to me, you and Christopher. I am very tired and most frightfully depressed at this worst news. Now one realises in despair what the T.C.B.S. really was. O my dear John Ronald whatever are we going to do?  Yours ever.    G. B. S.


 Five months later, Christopher Wiseman wrote to Tolkien to say that Smith had died in a mission. Just before seeing this final action Smith wrote these words to Tolkien: 

My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight – I am off on duty in a few minutes – there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! A discovery I am going to communicate to Rob before I go off tonight. And do you write it also to Christopher. May God bless you my dear John Ronald and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them if such be my lot.” – Yours ever, G.B.S.


Like C.S.Lewis, and so many of his generation, Tolkien was deeply affected by World War One and the death of his friends.


As his closest intimates were cut down, it put an end to the circle of friends and, challenged by Smith’s haunting words: “may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them”, Tolkien began to write his epic mythology on a notebook entitled “The Book of Lost Tales.” The tales would come to be known as “The Silmarillion.”


The hobbits entered his imagination in 1929, while marking examination papers, when Tolkien started to jot down some words for a story to read to his children – of whom there were now four:  “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”. Tolkien would later say of himself: “I am in fact a Hobbit, in all but size…I like gardens, trees…I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking…” 

 Tolkien was like his hobbits, dreaming of eggs and bacon.

 Like the Book of Jonah, Tolkien’s tales have an extraordinary catholicity – an equal appeal to the Deist, atheist, agnostic or Pagan reader, of all ages and backgrounds. Like Jonah it is not about historical truth – although Middle Earth feels like a place that once existed – it is a story which provides sign posts to the ultimate Truth as well as sign posts about how we should relate to one another, about friendship, courage, honesty, integrity and the seemingly endless battles that we are each destined to fight on our journeys; how the ring is representative of tyrannical power, pride, temptation, addiction and sin.  In this sense The Lord of the Rings is a “true” story.


   It resonates with Tolkien’s own experiences and the time in which it was written – although he always insisted it was not allegory but rather might have applicability to those times and to all times.


     In his wonderful book, “The Power of the Ring” the late Stratford Caldecott, said of Tolkien’s work “at an even deeper level it is about the reality and value of beauty…the homely beauty of firelight and good cheer, the rich natural beauty of tree and forest, the awesome majesty of mountains, the charm of babbling stream, the high and remote glimmer of the stars…recalling the mystery that lies beyond the beauties of this world, and awaken a longing in the human heart that will never be quite content in Middle-earth.”


By contrast, Edmund Wilson described The Lord of the Rings as “juvenile trash” while that angry atheist, Philip Pullman, author of “His Dark Materials” has called The Lord of the Rings “trivial”:

“Tolkien was a Catholic, for whom the basic issues of life were not in question… So nowhere in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is there a moment’s doubt about those big questions. No-one is in any doubt about what’s good or bad; everyone knows where the good is, and what to do about the bad. Enormous as it is, TLOTR is consequently trivial”

When the first volume of The Lord of the Rings was published Tolkien knew that he was leaving himself open to inevitable scorn, writing, “I have expressed my heart to be shot at”.

Last year was the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of the Return of the King – the third and final volume of Lord of The Rings.

Pullman and others might note that the trilogy has sold a phenomenal 150 million copies worldwide; in 1997 it was Voted Amazon’s Best Book of the Century emerged as the most popular work of fiction in surveys by Waterstones and Channel Four and was second only to the Bible in its readership.

The Lord of the Rings sits alongside his wonderful short stories and The Silmarillion, posthumously brought to publication by his son, Christopher.

Pullman’s assessment was wrong about the book’s deep and abiding appeal and it is far from “trivial” – quite the reverse – and he was also wrong in stating that Tolkien’s was an unquestioning faith and that he had no doubts.

Referring to his doubts during a particularly arid period in the 1920s he said it was the Blessed Sacrament that kept his then flickering faith alive. He told his son, Michael “I brought you all up ill and talked to you too little. Out of wickedness and sloth I almost ceased to practice my religion…Not for me the Hound of Heaven but the never ceasing silent appeal to the Tabernacle and the sense of starving hunger.”

To consolidate his faith, he practiced and recommended frequent Confession and the frequent reception of Holy Communion, telling his son, Michael, who taught Classics at Stonyhurst College and St Mary’s Hall in Lancashire, “I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity and the true way of all your loves upon earth.” 

In Oxford, he served Mass every day at Blackfriars. The Mass was celebrated by his fellow Inkling, Fr.Gervase Matthew OP. It is said that  Whitacres’s Roman soldier, nailing Jesus to the Cross in the Stations of the Cross at Blackfriars is modelled on Tolkien’s orc.


Tolkien taught his children to love the Created world, especially the trees, and he persuaded Michael, to plant a copse in his Stonyhurst garden, evidence of which can still be seen today.

From 1939, after Mussolini joined forces with Hitler, Tolkien became a regular visitor to Stonyhurst when his oldest son, John, returned to England from seminary in Rome to continue his training as a priest. Stonyhurst – with its connections to the Shireburn family, to the recusants and Catholic martyrs, complete with its own Shire Lane in its village, with its two rivers and ancient forest and views of Pendle Hill, with its occult history, was an inspiring setting for Tolkien – captured beautifully today in the Ribble Valley Tolkien Trail.


Tolkien passed on his love of the Catholic faith to each of his children and encouraged his son, Christopher, to memorise some of the most tried and trusted prayers but also the entire text of the Latin Mass, saying that “If you have these by heart you never need for words of joy”; and he prayed the rosary, keeping a rosary by his bed and in his hands as he looked for Nazi bombers while part of the Oxford Watch during World War Two. 

Towards the end of his life – even while the Jerusalem Bible was in the final stages of composition –Tolkien recoiled at liturgical changes and at what he regarded as a loss of beauty in both reverence for the Holy Eucharist and the sacraments and for the liturgy itself.

He was saddened but became reconciled to the use of the vernacular rather than Latin for the celebration of Mass but he deplored the use of sloppy language.  He said that the encouragement of the faithful to receive Communion regularly and to attend daily Mass would have had a more profound effect on the Church than the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

The changes led him to say “the Church which once felt like a refuge now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! I think there is nothing to do but pray for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it.”  His grandson, Simon, wrote that he could “vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth.” He said that his grandfather didn’t agree with the liturgical changes “and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right.”

His belief in the sacrament of marriage and the love of family remained with him until the very end.  When Tolkien died, on September 2nd, 1973 aged 81, he underscored that inseparability and indissolubility, by being interred in the same grave as his wife, Edith, who had died two years earlier.  The names of Luthien and Beren appear on their tombstone.


In Tolkien’s Middle Earth Legendarium Luthien was the most beautiful of all the children of Iluvatar and forsook her immortality for her love of the mortal warrior Beren. The Silmarillion

The Hobbit


Fr.Robert Murray SJ


So much then for the experiences that shaped Tolkien. 

  1. What does Tolkien Tells Us Himself about his faith?

While once on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament he personally experienced in a vision the blinding presence of God: “I perceived or thought of the Light of God” and saw his own Guardian Angel as a manifestation of “God’s very attention”. 

As a Catholic he believed God is the Creator of the universe and that God had made the world out of nothing. Whether in the Bible or in Tolkien’s Silmarillion all that is has been created by the Word of God when, as we learn in the Book of Job, “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God made a joyful melody.”

But as we also learn from The Silmarillion – as in the biblical story of Creation – we see the creativity  of Iluvatar, the One, and his first creations, the Ainur, the Holy Ones, contested by Melkor, “the greatest of the Ainur” who, like Lucifer, falls as he succumbs to the sin of pride and seeks to subvert both men and elves.

As G.K.Chesterton said of such pride, and as Tolkien himself believed: “Pride does not go before a fall, pride is the fall.”

That Tolkien’s faith was based on personal encounter with God and a deep spirituality is revealed in an exchange that he had with a stranger (whom he identified with Gandalf) and who said to him “Of course, you don’t suppose, do you, that you wrote all that book yourself?” Tolkien replied “Pure Gandalf!…I think I said “No, I don’t suppose so any longer.” I have never since been able to suppose so. An alarming conclusion for an old philologist to draw concerning his private amusement. But not one that should puff up anyone who considers the imperfections of “chosen instruments”, and indeed what sometimes seems their lamentable unfitness for the purpose.”  

    All the elements, from the genesis and “the great music” of “The Silmarillion” to the awesome climax at Mount Doom, take us from the alpha of creation to the omega of judgement. This is a story that exists for itself. 


    Tolkien tells us that: 


“The Lord of The Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision”. Elsewhere he states “I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and in fact a Roman Catholic”. In 1958 he wrote that The Lord of the Rings is “a tale, which is built on or out of certain ‘religious’ ideas, but is not an allegory of them.”


In 1956 in a letter to Amy Ronald he wrote:


“I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect “history” to be anything but a long defeat – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” 


Tolkien also said that his writing reflected his beliefs about death, immortality and resurrection.


In 1958, in a letter to Rhona Beare, Tolkien wrote:


“I might say that if the tale is ‘about’ anything it is not as seems widely supposed about ‘power.’ …It is mainly concerned with Death and Immortality.”


The Ring Rhyme that opens each volume of The Lord of the Rings reminds us of the order of Creation and that we cannot cheat our maker:


“Three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die…”


The Silmarillion reminds us:


“Death is their fate, the gift of Iluvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy. But Melkor has cast his shadow upon it, and confounded it with darkness, and brought evil out of good and fear out of hope.”


Tolkien believed in the Catholic concept of Natural Law and in the natural order of things; that we must be good stewards of creation and guardians of the beauty that God has bestowed upon the created world.


He foresaw the battles over euthanasia, genetics and the immortality sought and craved through genetics and human cloning – the powerful temptation (shared by some of the men and elves of Tolkien’s realm) to artificially manipulate our allotted span of life and to upend Natural Law and to usurp the role of the Creator. 


Tolkien and C.S.Lewis had read and were inspired by the writings of the Catholic convert G.K.Chesterton, who died in 1936, the year in which The Hobbit was completed.  In 1922 Chesterton’s last book before becoming a Catholic was “Eugenics and Other Evils” in which he stood against Margaret Sanger and the other early cheer leaders for the Nazis and who literally argued for “More Children for the Fit. Less for the Unfit.” Sanger made it clear whom she considered unfit: “Hebrews, Slavs, Catholics, and Negroes.”


Chesterton argued that if people dared to challenge science without ethics, such as eugenics or cloning, attempts are made to belittle them with “the same stuffy science, the same bullying bureaucracy, and the same terrorism by tenth-rate professors.” 


Tolkien shared Chesterton’s loathing of eugenics and in 1938 condemned Nazi “race-doctrine” as “wholly pernicious and unscientific”. And, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he described the scientists who had created the atomic bomb as “these lunatic physicists” and “Babel-builders.”


Three years after Eugenics and Other Evils, Chesterton published his “The Everlasting Man” (1925) which disputed H.G.Wells’ view that civilisation was merely an extension of animal life and that Christ was no more than a charismatic figure. In contesting this, Chesterton said Christianity had “died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.” Neither he nor Tolkien had any doubt about the Divinity of Christ, the Son of God.


In The Everlasting Man Chesterton paints the canvas of humanity’s spiritual journey and portrays Christianity as the bedrock of western civilisation.


Later, C.S.Lewis said that the combination of Chesterton’s apologetics and George MacDonald’s stories had between them shaped his intellect and imagination.


In 1947 Lewis wrote to Rhonda Bodle that   “the [very] best popular defence of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.”  Having abandoned his atheism Lewis wryly remarked that a young man who is serious about his atheism cannot be too careful about what he reads.


Tolkien and Lewis were also influenced by Chesterton’s belief in Merrie England as an antidote to the pernicious dehumanisation represented by over industrialisation and the servile State.  


The culture of the Shire is the culture of Merrie England. 


Victorian Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics saw Merrie England as representing the abundance and generosity of gifts we so easily squander or spoil. There was something here of Thomas More’s Utopia and a desire to return to an idyllic pastoral way of life that had been superseded by the smoking chimneys and crushed character of 1930s Britain.


Chesterton saw Merrie England in the guise of the country inn, the Sunday roast, conversation around the fireside, through the medieval Guilds, arts and crafts. Tolkien captured these ideas in the people of the Shire.


He always made clear his intense hatred of the rapacious destruction of the English countryside and the desirability of the simple life.  For most of his life Tolkien used a bicycle rather than a car, of which he though there were too many although it is unclear whether, like his Hobbits, he looked forward to two breakfasts


Tolkien and Lewis took from Chesterton their profound belief in the human dignity of every person, each made in the likeness and image of God. The castrating unmanning of men (“men without chests”) was captured by Lewis in “The Abolition of Man” (1943) and grotesque scientific brutalism is the theme of his novel “That Hideous Strength” (1945).


In 1930 Chesterton had observed that When people begin to ignore human dignity, it will not be long before they begin to ignore human rights.”


And in his Autobiography (1936) he wrote this:

“I did not really understand what I meant by Liberty, until I heard it called by the new name of Human Dignity. It was a new name to me; though it was part of a creed nearly two thousand years old. In short, I had blindly desired that a man should be in possession of something, if it were only his own body. In so far as materialistic concentration proceeds, a man will be in possession of nothing; not even his own body. Already there hover on the horizon sweeping scourges of sterilisation or social hygiene, applied to everybody and imposed by nobody. At least I will not argue here with what are quaintly called the scientific authorities on the other side. I have found one authority on my side.”


Like Chesterton, Tolkien also insisted on the teaching authority of the Church and the Pope.


He said of the papacy: “I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims…for me the Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. “Feed my sheep” was his last charge to St.Peter.”



Chesterton and Tolkien also had a shared love of the Virgin Mary. In his poem “The Black Virgin” Chesterton describes Mary “a morning star” – “sunlight and moonlight are thy luminous shadows, starlight and twilight thy refractions are, lights and half-lights and all lights turn about thee.”


Tolkien gives his elves an invocation to Elbereth “We still remember, we who dwell in this far land beneath the trees, The Starlight on the Western seas” words redolent of a Marian hymn which describes Mary as the “guide of the wanderer”, as “the ocean star”, “mother of Christ, star of the sea”.


In a letter to Fr. Robert Murray SJ, Tolkien said of the Virgin Mary “Our Lady, upon which all my own small perceptions of beauty, both in majesty and simplicity is founded”. Elsewhere he had said: “I attribute whatever there is of beauty and goodness in my work to the Holy Mother of God.”


Tolkien saw Mary as the closest of all beings to Christ, as literally “full of grace” describing her as “unstained” and that “she had committed no evil deeds.” He saw her as the Christ bearer who paves the way for the Incarnation: about which he says “the Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write.”


As well as is love of Mary, Tolkien had a traditional Catholic belief in the Communion of Saints – the companions of Christ throughout all the ages. He would have been delighted by the beatification in Birmingham, in 2010, by Pope Benedict of John Henry Newman. The collegiality – the fellowship – of Newman’s Oratorians appealed to Tolkien.


Newman insisted – and Tolkien believed – that there is some unique task assigned to each of us that has not been assigned to any other. The challenge is to discern it.


Newman’s prayer on “Purpose” emphasises each person’s unique gifts, their unique talents, and their unique destiny. he emphasised that we do not need to be perfect before using those talents. He said this about the use of gifts:


“What are great gifts but the correlative of great work? We are not born for ourselves, but for our kind, for our neighbours, for our country: it is but selfishness, indolence, a perverse fastidiousness, an unmanliness, and no virtue or praise, to bury our talent in a napkin.”


Or, for that matter, hide them in a private hobbit hole.


Tolkien loved the feasts and seasons of the Church and the ever growing company of saints. In 1925, when Tolkien was 33, the little flower” – the Carmelite nun, Saint Therese of Lisieux, was canonised. Her “little way” contradicted the elevation of power and the mobilisation of vast armies: “I only love simplicity. I have a horror of pretence” she said. “It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new.”


It sounds like a manifesto for Hobbiton.


Central, too, to Tolkien’s faith was his love of the Blessed Sacrament. He told his son Michael that “The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion….frequency is of the highest effect.” He described the Holy Eucharist as “the one great thing to love on earth” and that in “the Blessed Sacrament you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that….eternal endurance which every man’s heart desires.”




And in all these battles Tolkien seeks the Viaticum which is given through the last of the seven Sacraments and which is provided as daily sustenance through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist stating:


 “I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again”



These then are some of the “certain ‘religious’ ideas” that inspired Tolkien.



Doubtless, all of these beliefs and ideas were the subject of discussion when the Inklings met at the Eagle and Child – the Bird and Baby – between the 1930s and 1949. The group was led by Tolkien and Lewis but also included Tolkien’s son, Christopher, Roger Lancelyn Green, Hugo Dyson, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams and Lord David Cecil.


But it was particularly the companionship of C.S.Lewis that strengthened the faith of both men.


It is now 90 years since J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S.Lewis met as Oxford academics.

It was the beginning of a friendship kindled by common experiences and which produced some of the most wonderful fiction of the twentieth century but which had its origins in the shared horrors of the Great War.

   Lewis once wrote that “There’s no sound I like better than male laughter” – and it was in the early 1930s that he began to cultivate his friendship with the new Professor of Anglo-Saxon, appointed in 1925. Throughout those highly productive years – and as he journeyed from atheism to Christian belief – Lewis became close to Tolkien.       


   In 1933 they began to hold meetings in college rooms and on Tuesday mornings at The Eagle and Child. Tolkien later wrote that “CSL had a passion for hearing things read aloud.” The Inklings met regularly during the next two decades.


   Although Tolkien would later be displaced in Lewis’ affections, and a rift opened between them, these gatherings inestimably enriched them both.


Lewis would write of the importance of such friendship in “The Four Loves”: “He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest or funniest in all the others.”


The Inklings were conceived as a circle of friends which would practice solidarity and engender camaraderie; intuitively and challengingly counter cultural.


For Lewis the Inklings also provided a familial intimacy which his own family could not. Tolkien was crucial in his own journey to faith.


He recorded the moment when, in 1931, he decided to embrace Christianity: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ – in Christianity. …My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.”


Two year earlier he had come to believe in God: 


   “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England…The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”  


Lewis and Tolkien did not believe Christians needed to be morose or detached.  In 1944 The Daily Telegraph misleadingly referred to Lewis as “an ascetic”.  Tolkien scoffed at this in a letter to his son: “Ascetic Mr. Lewis!!! I ask you! He put away three pints in a very short session we had this morning and said he was ‘going short for Lent.’”


Their friendship was based on the joy to which Lewis gave so much emphasis in his writing and captured by Tolkien in this verse from Lord of the Rings

“Ho! Ho! Ho!

To the bottle I go To heal my heart and drown my woe Rain may fall, and wind may blow And many miles be still to go But under a tall tree will I lie And let the clouds go sailing by”


For two men formed in the harrowing trenches of the Great War, who had seen so many of their friends pay the ultimate price, pain and suffering did not disable or incapacitate them. Both believed that beyond the pain and the suffering of today is the certainty of eternity. Both believed that through their story telling they could encourage their readers to see beyond the catastrophic and destructive effects of war and the evil in our world to a hopeful and joyous future.



So much, then, for Tolkien’s beliefs and the experiences which shaped him.


  • 2.  How does that faith shape the characters, and the story lines?



Although Tolkien despised simple allegory he invites us to use the stories, the plots, the characters, and to examine their “applicability.” He said that his objective had been to “make a body of more or less connected legend…drawing splendour from vast backcloths…The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.”  He said that his work should be “dedicated simply to England, to my country.”


This suggests that he wants us to explore his amazing and extraordinary landscape to discover things that are important about how we live and behave towards one another.


Tolkien insisted that notwithstanding the Redemption of man “the Christian still has to work, with mind as well as body” and he said that “in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.”


We are being invited to decipher his elvish runes and games of riddles, leaving us scope to draw what conclusions we may but this is an invitation to meet our Creator through legend and myth, fantasy and story-telling.


And the Lord of the Rings is riddled with wisdom and common sense about everything from the nature of friendship to the place of courage:



“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”


“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”


It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”


“Little by little, one travels far.”


“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate”


 “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”


“It’s a dangerous business going out your front door.”


“Courage is found in unlikely places.”


But central must be an understanding of power and evil represented by the Ring itself:

“The Board is set, the pieces are moving. we come to it at last, the great battle of our time.”

 Stratford Caldecott believed that the Ring exemplifies “the dark magic of the corrupted will, the assertion of self in disobedience to God. It appears to give freedom, but its true function is to enslave the wearer to the Fallen Angel. It corrodes the human will of the wearer, rendering him increasingly “thin” and unreal; indeed, its gift of invisibility symbolizes this ability to destroy all natural human relationships and identity. You could say the Ring is sin itself: tempting and seemingly harmless to begin with, increasingly hard to give up and corrupting in the long run


The Ring and the forces at work capture the endless contest between good and evil. It represents naked power and crude evil bringing with it temptation and corruption, violence and death.




As the ring bearer struggles towards his destiny many die before the evil forces of Sauron are at last subdued; and even then Saruman remains at large in the Shire – evil and sin are still at work, waiting to ensnare us.


For the Christian, the use of evil to overcome evil is a frequent temptation. Frodo, Gandalf and the Lady Galadriel all understand that if they use the ring to overcome the Dark Lord then they too will become enslaved by evil.


The general weakness of humanity (which can be taken to cover not only mankind, but all creatures in The Lord of the Rings) reminds us that humanity is fundamentally good, but that those who fall turn to evil. 


All that is evil was once good – Elrond says, “Nothing was evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”  In this commentary and in the fallen orcs – which were themselves once elves – we can surely see the story of the fall.


Temptation appears first in The Hobbit as the travellers are warned as they enter Mirkwood, don’t drink the water and don’t stray from the path. How like the descendants of Adam, who when urged not to eat at the forbidden tree choose do so anyway.


The temptation of the Serpent is reflected in Boromir’s temptation by the Ring, as well as in Gollum’s.  In Gollum we also see the idea of a conscience – he fights with himself and with his conscience while he is being tempted.  The theologian Colin Gunton was of the opinion that the way in which the Ring tempts people to use its power is analogous to Jesus’ temptation by the devil.


Other aspects of evil also recur in the book.  The destructive nature of evil is there in the Scouring of the Shire, and in the way in which Saruman’s troops destroy the trees and the timeless quality of Shire life, something especially abhorrent to Tolkien. The orcs themselves are cannibals, and are hideous – showing how evil corrupts. The dark and barren lands of Mordor are the very face of evil.


Connected with this is the self-destructive nature of evil. Inherent in evil is the desire to dominate, rule and have power over others.



After Gollum falls to the power of the Ring, he is consumed by its power, and he becomes weakened to such an extent that he can no longer resist it. Even getting close to evil has a subverting effect: take Bilbo’s reluctance to give up the Ring, and its disappearance from the mantle piece and reappearance in his pocket. Or, despite his epic and heroic journey into darkness, Frodo ultimately fails to throw the ring into the furnace. Here is the powerful mixture of the intoxicating allure of the forbidden with our human weakness and frailty.


Yet, despite his failure, in Frodo’s “little way” of self-sacrifice and willingness to take on seemingly impossible odds we see a central tenet of Christian belief.  And think of those unlikely victories over seemingly intractable and daunting odds such as at Helm’s Deep. Even when evil appears to be triumphing – such as when Sauron gloats over what he considers to be the foolhardiness of Aragorn’s troops as they march towards Mordor, he is defeated by them.



Evil also brings with it desolation, barrenness and the destruction of beauty.


Compare the destruction of Isengard, and the brutality of the orcs, with the simple homely life of the Shire. An image that Tolkien repeatedly uses is that of dark and light.  Contrast the Shire and Mordor (“where the shadows lie”) – The Shire which contains so much of the England Tolkien loved, and Mordor, the dark and sinister land where Sauron and Mount Doom are to be found, and which contains so much of the England that Tolkien hated.


Compare, too, the man-eating trolls and orcs with the elves – the disfigured (fallen) creatures and the beautiful and immortal elves – comparable to the angelic hosts. Recall the crucial role of the eagles and remember Isaiah 40:31 that “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”



Even in his use of names Tolkien’s sign posts take us to places and people that seem good or bad – Galadriel, Aragorn, Frodo and Arwen are beautiful-sounding names, whereas Wormtongue, the Balrog, Mordor and Mount Doom -all unlikely to be forces for good.


But although we encounter evil we are encouraged never to lose sight of what is good:


“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”


In the Lady Galadriel the reader can be allowed to see something of the purity and beauty of the Virgin Mary; Galadriel’s grand-daughter, Arwen, also has a Marian role, saving both Frodo’s life and soul as she utters the words – not in the original text but crafted by Peter Jackson, who in his use of the word grace makes a more explicitly religious statement than even Tolkien himself –

“What grace is given me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared.”


Galadriel bestows upon the Fellowship seven mystical gifts, which are surely analogous to the seven sacraments, and as such are real signs of grace, and not mere symbols.


In the provision of lembas, we can see the Holy Eucharist. Before the Fellowship depart from Lorien they have a final supper where the mystical elvish bread lembas is shared, and they all drink from a common cup. The immortal elves are nourished by the lembas, the mystical bread – the bread of angels – which both nourishes and heals.


Lembas, we are told, “had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone, and did not mingle it with other goods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure.” This allusion reminds us of the manna that fed the people of Israel or the German mystic, Theresa Neumann, who survived by eating nothing other than the Holy Eucharist.  


We can see Christ-like qualities in Aragorn. He has a kingdom to come into, a bride to wed. One powerful image is of the “Hands of the Healer” – in the Houses of Healing: Aragorn, the King, has the ability to heal people by touching them with his hands. Another King had the touch that healed Jairus’ daughter, the centurion’s servant, the lepers, the blind man and the sick who were lowered through the roof at Capaernum. 


Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo all have Christ like marks – with Aragorn the king entering his kingdom, the return of whom everyone is expecting;


In Gandalf we are also confronted by Resurrection –a life beyond the present is evoked as  Gandalf dies after he fights the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum; but returns – and is initially unrecognised, strengthened as Gandalf the White; recalling Gethsemane and Emmaus.


Gandalf’s transformation tells us something about the Christian idea of justice, which is at the heart of the book. In the end, everyone gets what they deserve.  Saruman starts off as Saruman the White, but following his fall, ends up as Saruman of Many Colours. The order of “rank” in the wizard hierarchy holds white as the highest, followed by grey and then brown; they almost sound like orders of monks and friars with Gandalf the Grey becoming Gandalf the White.


There is even a sort of papacy in the wizard Gandalf – after all, he acts as leader to the free and faithful people, and he even crowns kings, as did popes of old. And as a spiritual father to Frodo, who tells Gandalf that he wishes he had not been born into such a time as this that “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”



There is the further thought that along with Galdalf’s papal colour of white, the name of the Pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, is translated into English as Gandolf’s Castle. Perhaps it means nothing; perhaps it is another elvish rune.



In Boromir we see a willingness to lay down his life for his friends (made all the more remarkable because of his earlier attempt to seize the ring by force and by his subsequent repentance). Boromir is rewarded for his repentance by dying a hero’s death by an orc’s arrow and being given a hero’s funeral.  All of the fallen characters are given a chance to repent, although most of them– such as Wormtongue, Gollum and Saruman – unlike Boromir, do not.



In Frodo, we see a willingness both to serve and to carry his burden. The very future of Middle Earth is at stake, and it is the Fellowship which wins salvation for Middle Earth, although not without cost, including self-sacrifice.


Elrond tells Frodo that it is his destiny to be a ring bearer; but this is no pleasurable occupation. Frodo, like Christ, takes up his cross.


Throughout the quest Frodo’s strength in increasingly sapped by the burden he carries and of which he seeks to be rid.  His stumbling approach to Mordor, under the Eye of Sauron, is like the faltering steps of Christ weighed down by his Cross as he repeatedly falls on the path to Golgotha; and, like Christ, Frodo is tempted by despair.



Indeed, Frodo does succumb. His free will, hitherto so strong in resisting the powers of the Ring, gives way to the power of the Ring, and he cannot bring himself to throw it down into the fires of Mount Doom. Despite all his inner strength Frodo gradually succumbs to a dark fascination with the ring and he loses his free spirit and free will the closer he comes in proximity to Mount Doom


Enter here the Christian foot soldier, Samwise Gamgee.


My own favourite character in The Lord of the Rings is based on the private soldiers Tolkien encountered at the Somme in 1916:


“My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 War, and recognised as so far superior to myself.”


Sam’s humility turns him into the greatest hero in the book.  Although he is only Frodo’s gardener, it is he who saves Frodo and ultimately the Shire. Mary Magdalene, in her first resurrection encounter with the Lord mistakes Jesus, thinking that he too is only a gardener.  Tolkien is reminding us that so often we miss what is important about the people we meet, what matters most, and too frequently judge them by the job they do or their social origins.


Sam is like Simon of Cyrene, sharing his Master’s burden and at the climax his devoted loyalty in following Frodo to the very end is rewarded as the burden is lightened and he is transfigured. 


Stratford Caldecott quotes Tolkien as saying that the plot is concerned with ‘the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble’ – and the meek Sam certainly inherits the earth.  


At a crucial moment in Mordor he must carry the Ringbearer, and even the Ring itself.  He moves from immature innocence to mature innocence: and finally, in his own world (that is, in Tolkien’s inner world of the Shire), this ‘gardener’ becomes a ‘king’ or at least a Mayor.  The fact is that Frodo could not have fulfilled his task without the continuing presence of Sam, and he relies utterly on him; yet Sam remains humble always and faithful to his master.


Through Sam Tolkien also reminds us of the Christian virtue of mercy and the role of Providence. Sam would have gladly disposed of Gollum whom he sees as a threat to Frodo. Gandalf commends Frodo for showing mercy and tells us that even Gollum may one day have his moment. As the ring is committed to the depths that Providence comes to pass.


As Sam, who begins the story by eavesdropping, returns to the Shire there is something of the Catholic love of order, tradition and a longing for restoration of that which has been lost.


Sam insists “there is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.” 


The fight culminates on a specific date: March 25th. It is the day on which the Ring is finally destroyed at Mount Doom. Gandalf tells Frodo “the New Year will always now begin on the 25th of March when Sauron fell, and you were brought out of the fire to the King.”  


Tom Shippey, in “The Road to Middle Earth”, says that in “Anglo-Saxon belief, and in European popular tradition both before and after that, March 25th is the date of the Crucifixion”, and it is also the date of the Annunciation.  Days to recall beginnings and endings.



The Lord of the Rings then is a story with many stories concealed within it. Tolkien’s subtlety is that he lays a trail of clues for his readers.


His final hidden clue – the last elvish rune – is the word Tolkien invented to describe what he saw as a good quality in a fairy-story – and that word was eucatastrophe, this being the notion that there is a “sudden joyous ‘turn’” in the story, where everything is going well, “giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy”, whilst not denying the “existence of dyscatastrophe – of sorrow and failure”.


Tolkien said:


“I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.


That is what shaped his life, what shaped his beliefs, where faith and fiction are joined as one – and why his work is a great spiritual adventure as well as high fantasy at its very best.



 David Alton, November 2016.          






The story of the Coming of Christianity to Korea and the story of the thousands who died for their faith – and new CSW Report on North Korea published on “Save North Koreans Day”.

At a ceremony in Rome where he received the St.Thomas More Advocacy Award, for his work on promoting freedom of religion and belief, David Alton particularly referred to the plight of North Korea’s persecuted Christians. Here you can read the story of the coming of Christianity to Korea and the story of the thousands who died for their faith. Scroll down to read the full text of Monsignor Richard Rutt’s pamphlet “The Korean Martyrs”

2016 saint thomas more award 2Korean martyrs

Also See:

New CSW report, Total Denial: Violations of freedom of religion or belief in North Korea issued on  Save North Koreans Day, and CSW delivered a letter to China’s President Xi Jinping, via the Chinese Embassy in London, urging China to stop its policy of forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees.

Ben Roigers has written this op-ed article in The Huffington Post –

and this piece  –

To access the full report, see –

And the CSW press release –

Also see –

Reuters report on Christianity in North Korea

In North Korea, a church renovated, missionaries jailed

By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters) – Tucked between trees and paddy fields in a quiet suburb in the west of Pyongyang, Chilgol Church is one of four state-operated churches in the capital of a country that espouses freedom of religion but effectively bans it.

In recent months, the Protestant church has been renovated – its rusted iron roof replaced with new tiles, and its faded brown brick walls repainted yellow, according to a North Korean propaganda video. At the same time, North Korea has sentenced two foreign missionaries to hard labour and along the border with China, both countries have cracked down on religious groups.

As Pope Francis visits South Korea this week in his first trip to Asia, religion in North Korea is under the spotlight.

People who regularly travel to the North Korean capital describe its churches as showpieces for foreign residents and tourists. Many foreigners are invited to sit in front-row pews, they say, but are prohibited from mingling with a congregation hand-picked by the state.

North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion provided it does not undermine the state, but outside of a small handful of state-controlled places of worship, no open religious activity is allowed.

“To be a Christian in North Korea is extremely dangerous, and many Christians who are discovered end up in the prison camps or, in some cases, executed,” said Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which campaigns for religious freedom.

“The regime demands absolute loyalty and devotion and sees religion as undermining this,” he said.

North Korea turned down an invitation from the South Korean Catholic church for members of its state-run Korean Catholic Association to attend a papal mass next week in Seoul, citing the start of joint U.S.-South Korean military drills, due to begin on the same day.

A United Nations report earlier this year cited estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 of North Korea’s 24 million people are Christians. The number is impossible to verify because most Christians cannot worship openly.

An overwhelming 99.7 percent of defectors from North Korea said in a survey late last year that there was no religious freedom in the country. Only 4.2 percent said they had seen a Bible when they lived there, said the survey of over eight thousand defectors by the South Korea-based Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights.

In May, the isolated country detained U.S. tourist Jeffrey Fowle for leaving a Bible in the toilet of a site visited by his tour group, and U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae is serving a 15 year hard labour sentence on charges of attempting to bring down the government.

Another missionary, South Korean Kim Jeong-wook, was sentenced to life with hard labour in June after a North Korean court found him guilty of espionage and setting up an underground church.


Religion was once considered part of the North’s unification policy, with the strategy of trying to align with religious leaders in the South who were battling the country’s military rulers at the time. But the success of South Korean religious groups in helping to oust its own military dictatorship may have caused Pyongyang to treat its official relationship with religion more carefully.

“Part of North Korea’s fear of Christianity stems from the successful challenge which Christians like Kim Dae-jung and Cardinal Stephen Kim made in ending the military dictatorship in South Korea,” said Lord David Alton, chairman of the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.

As head of the Korean Catholic Church, Cardinal Kim helped mobilise South Koreans against South Korea’s military dictatorship in the 1980s, alongside former President and democracy activist Kim Dae-jung, a fellow Roman Catholic.

“With the imminent arrival of Pope Francis in Seoul, they (Pyongyang) will also be reflecting on the role which John Paul II played in ending Eastern European communism,” Alton said.

However, North Korea’s founding president Kim Il Sung was the grandson of a Protestant priest and his mother, Kang Ban Sok, was a devout Christian whose first name came from an early Korean translation of the biblical name Peter.

The Chilgol Church was built in her honour, but sits 300 metres (yards) from a propaganda museum and statues dedicated to her as the revolutionary mother of the man who became father to the state.

As at any church, a softly-spoken vicar may shake hands and chat with visitors as they leave, but officials carefully scrutinise the church after services and count Bibles to make sure none have gone missing, regular visitors say.

In the 1980s, the North, under pressure to change with the deepening of economic problems and main ally China’s growing openness, began looking to foreign religious groups as a means to forge links with the outside world.

The government gave official status to religious groups and allowed the publication of the Bible, and in 1988 the main churches for the Catholic and Protestant faiths, Jangchung and Pongsu, were built in Pyongyang. The Chilgol Church and a Russian Orthodox church were set up later.

But there is no genuine religious freedom in North Korea, the U.S. State Department said in a report late last month. State media dismissed the report as an attempt by the United States to “tarnish its image”.

But fealty to the Kim family that has ruled North Korea for over half a century is paramount.

“They have attempted to replace religion with a cultish dynastic ideology,” said Alton. “But by outlawing religious freedom they have denied their society an engine for social and economic change.”

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tony Munroe and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

As Pope Francis visits Korea the North Koreans send a missionary to a forced labour camp and according to a United Nations Report thousands of Christians suffer crimes against humanity.

Putting a new roof on Chilgo church in Pyongyang is a maldroit attempt by the North Korean regime to suggest that it respects Christian beliefs and religious freedom. Replacing a decaying rusted roof should be set alongside the sentencing of two missionaries to hard labour and the imprisonment of thousands of North Korean Christians in forced labour camps. A United Nations report says Pyongyang’s treatment of Christians constitutes crimes against humanity while a celebrated international law firm believes it amounts to genocide.

Chilgol is where Kim Jong Un’s great grandmother was an Elder and where she worshipped. It’s not Chilgol’s roof he should be replacing but policies which persecute Christians who have the same beliefs as his great grandmother.

As Pope Francis arrives in South Korea Kim Jong Un should announce an amnesty for imprisoned believers and commit his country to upholding Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees religious freedom. If he did so he would win universal approbation instead of condemnation.

New Pilgrimage

Korean Bishops Embark on Pilgrimage dedicated to Martyrs

Year of Faith Event Commemorates Those Who Gave Their Lives for the Gospel

Followed by The Coming of Christianity To Korea – also see “Building Bridges” (Lion, 2013)

SEOUL, September 17, 2013 ( – Last Tuesday, Korean Bishops embarked, for the first time, a pilgrimage on foot to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Seoul, South Korea. The Year of Faith event marked the Month of Martyrs celebrated in September to commemorate those who gave their life for the Gospel.

St.Andrew Kim, the first Korean Catholic priest, martyred at the age of 25, and St.Paul Chongst_andrew_kim

The Feast of the Korean Martyrs is celebrated on September 20th and commemorates 103 Christians killed during persecutions in the country that went on from 1839-1867. According to Fides News Agency, the Korean Bishops embarking on the pilgrimage were accompanied by over 300 priests, religious, and lay people who reflected on the spirit of martyrdom.

The pilgrimage began with the opening prayer in the chapel at the Songsin Theological Campus, The Catholic University of Korea, in which some pieces of the remains of Saint Andrew Kim Dae-gon (1821-1846) are preserved, the first Korean priest and martyr, canonized by John Paul II in 1984.

The Bishops made a pilgrimage to martyrs’ shrines, following this itinerary: site of the Left Podo-Cheong – police headquarter, execution site of Korean martyrs; the Myeongdong Cathedral, in whose crypt there are the relics of 9 martyrs; Seosomun Martyrs’ Shrine, built on the site where 44 out of the 103 Korean martyrs, many Servants of God and other Catholic martyrs in the earlier Church in Korea sacrificed their lives; Danggogae Martyrs’ Shrine where 10 Korean Catholics were martyred on this hill; Saenamteo Martyrs’ Shrine, where 11 priests were killed; Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine, place of martyrdom during the Byeong-in persecution in 1866. In the underground sepulchre of the church there are the relics of 28 Martyrs, a museum and a large outdoor statue of Saint AndrewKim Dae-geon.

(2) Text of JPII Homily at Canonisation

Mass for the canonization of Korean martyrs, Homily of John Paul II, 6 May 1984



(MAY 2-11, 1984)



Youido Place – Seoul

Sunday, 6 May 1984

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory”? (Luc. 24, 26)

1. These words, taken from today’s Gospel, were spoken by Jesus as he was going from Jerusalem to Emmaus in the company of two of his disciples. They did not recognize him, and as to an unknown person they described to him all that had happened in Jerusalem in these last days. They spoke of the Passion and death of Jesus on the Cross. They spoke of their own shattered hopes: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luc. 24, 21). These hopes were buriedwith the death of Jesus.

The two disciples were downhearted. Even though they had heard that the women and the Apostles, on the third day after his death, had failed to find the body of Jesus in the tomb, nevertheless they were completely unaware that he had been seen alive. The disciples did not know that at that precise moment they were actually looking at him, that they were walking in his company, that they were speaking with him. Indeed, their eyes were kept from recognizing him (Ibid. 24, 16).

2. Then Jesus began to explain to them, from Sacred Scripture, that it was precisely through suffering that the Messiah had to reach the glory of the Resurrection. The words alone however did not have the full effect. Even though their hearts were burning within them while they listened to this unknown person, nevertheless he still remained for them an unknown person. It was only during the evening meal, when he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Ibid. 24, 31), but he then disappeared from their sight. Having recognized the Risen Lord, they became witnesses for all time of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Through them, through all the Apostles, through the men and women who were witnesses of the life and death of Jesus Christ, of his Gospel and Resurrection, the truth about him spread first to Jerusalem, next to all Judea, and then to other countries and peoples. It entered into the history of humanity.

3. The truth about Jesus Christ also reached Korean soil. It came by means of books brought from China. And in a most marvellous way, divine grace soon moved your scholarly ancestors first to an intellectual quest for the truth of God’s word and then to a living faith in the Risen Savior.

Yearning for an ever greater share in the Christian faith, your ancestors sent one of their own in 1784 to Peking, where he was baptized. From this good seed was born the first Christian community in Korea, a community unique in the history of the Church by reason of the fact that it was founded entirely by lay people. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could already boast of some ten thousand martyrs. The years 1791, 1801, 1827, 1839, 1846 and 1866 are forever signed with the holy blood of your Martyrs and engraved in your hearts.

Even though the Christians in the first half century had only two priests from China to assist them, and these only for a time, they deepened their unity in Christ through prayer and fraternal love; they disregarded social classes and encouraged religious vocations. And they sought ever closer union with their Bishop in Peking and the Pope in faraway Rome.

After years of pleading for more priests to be sent, your Christian ancestors welcomed the first French missionaries in 1836. Some of these, too, are numbered among the Martyrs who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel, and who are being canonized today in this historic celebration.

The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the Martyrs. Even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land.

4. Today then it is given to me, as the Bishop of Rome and Successor of Saint Peter in that Apostolic See, to participate in the Jubilee of the Church on Korean soil. I have already spent several days in your midst as a pilgrim, fulfilling as Bishop and Pope my service to the sons and daughters of the beloved Korean nation. Today’s Liturgy constitutes the culminating point of this pastoral service.

For behold: through this Liturgy of Canonization the Blessed Korean Martyrs are inscribed in the list of the Saints of the Catholic Church. These are true sons and daughters of your nation, and they are joined by a number of missionaries from other lands. They are your ancestors, according to the flesh, language and culture. At the same time they are your fathers and mothers in the faith, a faith to which they bore witness by the shedding of their blood.

From the thirteen-year-old Peter Yu to the seventy-two-year-old Mark Chong, men and women, clergy and laity, rich and poor, ordinary people and nobles, many of them descendants of earlier unsung martyrs – they all gladly died for the sake of Christ.

Listen to the last words of Teresa Kwon, one of the early Martyrs: “Since the Lord of Heaven is the Father of all mankind and the Lord of all creation, how can you ask me to betray him? Even in this world anyone who betrays his own father or mother will not be forgiven. All the more may I never betray him who is the Father of us all”.

A generation later, Peter Yu’s father Augustine firmly declares: “Once having known God, I cannot possibly betray him”. Peter Cho goes even further and says: “Even supposing that one’s own father committed a crime, still one cannot disown him as no longer being one’s father. How then can I say that I do not know the heavenly Lord Father who is so good?”.

And what did the seventeen-year-old Agatha Yi say when she and her younger brother were falsely told that their parents had betrayed the faith? “Whether my parents betrayed or not is their affair. As for us, we cannot betray the Lord of heaven whom we have always served”. Hearing this, six other adult Christians freely delivered themselves to the magistrate to be martyred. Agatha, her parents and those other six are all being canonized today. In addition, there are countless other unknown, humble martyrs who no less faithfully and bravely served the Lord.

5. The Korean Martyrs ave borne witness to the crucified and risen Christ.Through the sacrifice of their own lives they have become like Christ in a very special way. The words of Saint Paul the Apostle could truly have been spoken by them: We are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies . . . We are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh”.

The death of the martyrs is similar to the death of Christ on the Cross, because like his, theirs has become the beginning of new life. This new life was manifested not only in themselves – in those who underwent death for Christ – but it was alsoextended to others. It became the leaven of the Church as the living community of disciples and witnesses to Jesus Christ. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”: this phrase from the first centuries of Christianity is confirmed before our eyes.

Today the Church on Korean soil desires in a solemn way to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the gift of the Redemption. It is of this gift that Saint Peter writes: “You were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ”. To this lofty price, to this price of the Redemption, your Church desires, on the basis of the witness of the Korean Martyrs, to add an enduring witness of faith, hope and charity.

Through this witness may Jesus Christ be ever more widely known in your land: the crucified and risen Christ. Christ, the Way and the Truth and the Life. Christ, true God: the Son of the living God. Christ, true man: the Son of the Virgin Mary.

Once at Emmaus two disciples recognized Christ “in the breaking of the bread”. On Korean soil may ever new disciples recognize him in the Eucharist. Receive his body and blood under the appearances of bread and wine, and may he the Redeemer of the world receive you into the union of his Body, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

May this solemn day become a pledge of life and of holiness for future generations. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and is living in his Church today. “Yes it is true. The Lord has risen”. Amen. Alleluia!

With thanks to – Libreria Editrice Vaticana (1984)

(3) Background info. on some of the martyrs

Saint Paul Chong Hasang

St. Paul Chong Hasang(1795-1839) was one of the lay leaders who have participated in the establishment of the early Korean Catholic Church. He was also the second son of Chung, Yak Jong, a martyr who was killed during the Shin-Yu Persecution (1801). During this persecution, the Korea’s only priest, Chu, Moon Mo and many prominent leaders of the early Korean Catholic Church were martyred. After these incidents, it seemed impossible to reconstruct the devastated Korean Catholic community. It was St. Paul Chong Hasang who gathered the scattered Korean Catholic members and ignited their hearts with the raging flames of faith. Furthermore, he reorganized the structures and activities of the Korean Catholic church and initiated a movement for the Beijing Bishop to send priests to Korea.

To accomplish this mission, from 1816, he has crossed the China borders nine times, overcoming many dangers and fiercely cold weathers, totaling 2000 Km of round trips. He entered the China territory as a lowly servant to the Korean diplomatic members who have made their annual tributary missions to China to exchange gifts with the Chinese Emperor. By using these opportunities in Beijing, St. Paul Chong requested many times that the Beijing Bishop send priests to Korea. As many of his attempts failed, he directly pleaded the case to Pope Gregory X. Finally, on September 9th, 1831, the Pope proclaimed the legitimacy of the Korean Catholic Diocese to the World.

The followings are St. Paul Chong Hasang’s main achievements:

First, he was the leader of the early Korean Catholic Church during the persecution period, during which he provided the essential momentum to establish the Korean Catholic Diocese with progressive and worldly vision.

Second, he contributed greatly to the development of the Korean Catholic Church by dedicating his life to accommodating and assisting the priests who were sent to Korea after the establishment of the Korean Catholic Archdiocese.

Third, he was one of the seminary students of Bishop Imbert to become a priest. However, during the Gi Hye Persecution in 1839, the bishop and St. Paul Chong Hasang were martyred, unfortunately he was unable to actualize his dream of becoming a priest.

Fourth, he wrote a document declaring the position of the Korean Catholic Church that the Catholic faith is good for the nation but not a threat, the Sang-Je-Sang-Su. In this document, he firmly pleaded to the persecutors to stop persecuting Catholic members. The document, Sang-Je-Sang-Su, is a short writing of only two thousands words but, it is a well written Catholic doctrine explaining why the Korean government should not persecute Catholics.

Fifth, his martyrdom became the testimony of his faith toward Christ and through his eternal glory, he became the pinnacle of the Korean Catholic faith.

St. Paul Chong Hasang was martyred at the age of forty-five on September 22, 1839 during the Gi Hye Persecution. Two months later, his mother, Yu Cecilia, passed away during the imprisonment and the following month, his younger sister, Jung Hye was also martyred. The three martyrs were beatified on June 6th, 1925 and were canonized, declared as saints, on May 6, 1984 by Pope John Paul II.

Korean martyrs

The lives of a few more of these martyrs, from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea.

Saint Kim Ob-I Magdalene (1774-1839)

Saint Kim A-gi Agatha (1787-1839)

Saint Han A-gi Barbara (1792-1839)

Kim Ob-I Magdalene and Han A-gi Barbara were arrested together in September 1836. It is not certain whether Kim A-gi Agatha was captured with them or at her own home. In any event, the three of them were taken into custody on the same day.

In prison they found themselves in the company of several other Catholics. They were Nam Myong-hyok Damian, accused of hiding the bishop’s vestments, Kwon Tug-in Peter, accused of making and selling crucifixes and holy pictures, Pak A-gi Anna, who remained in prison despite the apostasy of her husband and children and Yi Ho-yong, Peter’s sister Yi Agatha.

The first to be questioned was Pak A-gi Anna. In spite of the torture she remained unbowed.

“So what if my husband and son have apostatized! I choose to keep my faith and die for it,” she lightly answered the police. Next was Han A-gi Barbara. No less brave than Pak A-gi Anna, her body was a bloody mess when they had finished with her. While Han A-gi Barbara was undergoing torture, Kim Ob-I Magnalene have witnessed her faith by explaining Catholic doctrine to the police commissioner. Next Kim Agatha was called.

“It is true you believe in the Catholic Church?”

“I don’t know anything but Jesus and Mary.”

“If you could save your life by rejecting Jesus and Mary, wouldn’t you reject them?”

“I would rather die than reject them.”

And in spite of the tortures Agatha could not be persuaded to change her mind. Seeing this the police commissioner had them moved to prison. When the other Catholic prisoners saw Kim A-gi Agatha arriving they cheerfully greeted her.

“Here comes Agatha who doesn’t know anything but Jesus and Mary,” they said, congratulating her on her bravery.

Because of her inability to learn the doctrine and prayers Kim A-gi Agatha had not yet been baptized. She was the first to be baptized in prison during the persecution.

Baptism gave her new strength and with it she went on to overcome terrible torture and punishment.

After all the investigations and trials, death sentences were handed down on Nam Myong-hyok Damian, Kwon Tug-in Peter and Pak A-gi Anna on May 11, 1839. The next day Yi Kwang-hon Augustine and Pak H.I.-sun Lucy were also sentenced to death.

It took three more days of discussion before Kim Ob-I Magdalene, Han A-gi Barbara and Kim A-gi Agatha were given the sentence for believing in Catholicism and refusing to give up that belief.

Finally May 24, 1839, arrived. The events of that day are described by Cho Shin-ch’ol Charles as follows “On the appointed day ox carts, with crosses taller than the average person erected on them, were brought to the jail. When all was ready guards brought the condemned prisoners out and tied them to the crosses by the arms and hair. A foot rest was put under their feet and the signal given to depart.

When they arrived at the steep hill on which the Small West Gate is situated the guards suddenly pulled away the foot rests and the drivers urged the oxen to run headlong down. The rad is rough, with many stones. The carts lurched, causing extreme agony to the prisoners who were hung on the crosses by their arms and hair. The execution ground is a the foot of the hill. The guards took the prisoners from the crosses and tore off their clothes. The executioners tied their hair to the wooden beam and proceeded to cut off their heads.”

The nine martyrs received their crown at three o’clock in the afternoon, the same time as Jesus breathed his last on the cross several tens of centuries. In accordance with the law the bodies were left at the execution site for three days.

Korean martyrs 2

In the court record of the time it is written:

“On April 12, Yi Kwang-hon Augustine, Kwon Tug-in Peter and others, in all none criminals, were executed for following the false religion.”

Bishop Imbert wrote as follow:

“With difficulty we reclaimed the bodies at dawn on April 27. We buried the bodies of the martyrs at a place I had prepared earlier. I would have liked to have dressed the bodies in fine clothes and anointed them with expensive perfume, in the European manner. However, we are poor and to dress the bodies in this way would have been a burden on the Catholics, so we just wrapped them in straw matting. Now we have many protectors in heaven. When the day of religious freedom comes to Korea, as I know it will, these bodies will be a precious heritage.”

Saint Kim Ob-I Magdalene, Saint Kim A-gi Agatha and Saint Han A-gi Barbara were beatified on July 5, 1925 and together they were canonized on May 6, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Saint You Chin-gil Augustine (1791-1839)

St. Yu Chin-gil Augustine came from a family of government officials. Among the Korean martyrs, he was one of three who held government posts and the father of the 13-year-old martyr, St. Yu Tae-ch’ol Peter, the youngest of the 103 Korean Martyr Saints.

He was known as a man of deep contemplation. Curious about the origin and meaning of natural phenomena, especially philosophical and religious truths on the origin of man he spent much of the night examining the texts of Neo-Confucianism looking for answers. However, the more he studied the classics the more dissatisfied he became with the Tae-geuk-eum-yang (traditional Korean explanation of reality). His search led him on to investigate the teachings of Taoism and Buddhism. What is the origin of the universe? Is it the Li (basic principle) that Neo-Confucianists talked about or is it the Kong (emptiness) of Buddhism or the Mu (nothingness) of Taoism?

In his youth he heard of the Catholics who had been arrested and killed. He began to wonder if the books they had studied could be of any help to him. One day he came upon an old chest hidden away in a corner of the house. Inside it was lined with sheets of paper on which words like “spirit of life”, “spirit of understanding””and “soul” were written. Such terms had not appeared in any of the books he had read. On tearing off the sheets and putting them together he found the parts of the book called the Cheon-ju-sil-ui (True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven).

The first Catholic writings had been brought into Korea by envoys or interpreters who had gone on official business to Beijing. Since Yu Chin-gil’s family members had visited China as interpreters they were among those who brought back such books. However, during the persecution of 1801, when people were ordered to destroy all books on Western Learning, Yu’s family used the book to repair a tattered storage chest.

Yu Chin-gil went over the torn pages a number of times. They touched on the questions that had bothered him. But the few torn pages were not enough to satisfy him. So in the hope of finding a complete copy he began to inquire as to where he could meet Catholics. One day he met Yi Kyong-on Paul who was the younger brother of Yi Kyong-do Charles and Yi Soon-I Lutgardis who had been martyred in 1801. They had a long conversation and found that they were of the same mind. Yu borrowed True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven and other books on Western Learning. He discovered the one who created and supervised the world. It was not the basic principle that Neo-Confucianists talked about nor was it the Kong of Buddhism or the Mu of Taosim. It is the Lord who resides in Heaven. Humans have not only bodies but also souls, so when people die their bodies are disintegrated but their souls are immortal and subject to the final judgement of God.

He got down on his knees and marvelled.

“The true nature of humans is not to grow and get fat but to burnish their soul till it becomes bright and beautiful. This indeed is the correct truth.” He felt as if the eyes of his soul opened and he began to see the sun shining through dark clouds.

He went back to Yi Paul from whom he learnt Our Father and Hail Mary as well as the Ten Commandments. Soon he was ready to enter the Church. Through a meeting of Western and Eastern thought, Yu Chin-gil solved the question that had troubled him most. He was introduced to Chung Ha-sang Paul and other Catholics.

At that time, following the persecution of 1801 when Father Chu Mun-mo, Chinese priest sent from Beijing, was martyred, there was not a priest in Korea. The Catholics who had survived were struggling to re-establish the Church and to have another priest sent in from China. Even though he had not yet received baptism, on the instructions of Chung Ha-sang Paul, he recited morning prayer and evening prayer each day and faithfully followed the Ten Commandments.

In October of 1824 the winter diplomatic delegation was preparing to go to China. Yu Chin-gil did not want to miss this opportunity, so he made every efforts to be included as an interpreter and to have the noble-born Chung Ha-sang Paul to accompany him disguised as a servant.

Korean martyrs3

The delegation safely arrived in Beijing. Avoiding their companions, the two Catholics slipped off to meet the Bishop of Beijing. In Chinese, Yu asked him for baptism. The Bishop was delighted to receive visitors from so far away but felt he should question Yu Chin-gil to find out how much he knew about the teachings of the Church. Yu Chin-gil replied with the answers exactly as they were in the catechism. Why are humans born into the world? To know and honor God and to save their souls…” The Bishop was amazed that such zealous and well-instructed believer could come out of a Church that was being persecuted and had no clergy. “This is indeed a miracle of God,”” he exclaimed.

Yu Chin-gil was baptized during a special Mass. When the priest recited, “Receive and eat this. It is my body which will be offered up for you,”” he felt as if the blood of Jesus was flowing through his own veins.

He returned to his lodgings but was unable to sleep. He felt as though his heart was shining brightly in the dark room. He was moved by a deep religious experience. He knelt down and prayed.

“God, I thank you for the wonderful way in which You have led me to baptism. Send priests to our land so that the people there who live in darkness might have the joy of receiving the Eucharist. May this foolish servant, no matter what suffering or persecution is to come, give witness to You by offering my life in Lord’s work of opening the eyes of our nation. Give me the deep faith, strength and courage that I need. Amen.”

The Korean envoys learned from the priests in Beijing about practical sciences and Western inventions. In their discussions with the Western priests they became familiar with many aspects of Western learning. They were particularly surprised to learn that China was not the center of the world nor the most enlightened nation in the world. They were surprised to hear that humans were not created as nobles or commoners, but the division was a social system by which the nobles oppressed the commoners. Humans were all equal before God and all brothers and sisters in Christ, the Son of God. With words like equality, universal love and freedom ringing in his ears, Yu Chin-gil Augustine felt as if the teachings of the Chinese sages had come crashing down around him. It was as if he had heard the roar of thunder and seen Jesus rise from Golgotha. It was a sign of faith and a discovery of God. Even before he had set out for Beijing he had a faith that did not fear death, but after meeting the Western priests his understanding had deepened and his eyes had grown brighter.

Korean Martyrs 10 St__Nam_Chong-sam_John_B__(Kim_Tai,_90x72,_1984)

Korean Catholics, because of their faith, were to lead a profound change in the consciousness of the Korean people. In a nation which did not know such a God, they were to sow seeds which would alter lives. This was due to their own love of truth and the providence of God. Yu Chin-gil, Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul asked the priests to see the bishop who welcomed them and asked about the need of the Church in Korea. Yu Chin-gil Augustine told him of the difficulties they had to overcome in order to meet the bishop. Their Church was in a pitiful state. For almost 20 years it was without a priest. Yu Chin-gil Augustine was fortunate in being able to come to China and receive baptism, but there were many catechumens in Korea who were unable to receive baptism and many Catholics who could not receive Confirmation, Confession, the Eucharist or the other sacraments. The bishop was moved by what they said. He replied regretfully that, because of the persecutions in China, priests could not go into that country freely either and so he had no one to send to Korea. However, if they wrote directly to the Pope explaining the situation the bishop would do all he could to support their request. Yu Chin-gil Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul took courage from the bishop’s promise to help them. They returned to their lodging and composed the following letter requesting priests. Knowing that if this letter was discovered by the Korean authorities it would lead to another persecution, they signed it with the name “Ambrose”.

Holy Father, With troubled heart we greet Your Holiness and seek your help. Since Fr. Zhou Mun-mo was martyred, the spread of the Gospel has been blocked by persecutions. About one thousand believers remain in hiding and can do little by way of witness or evangelization.

No matter how much truth the teaching of the Korean Church contains, if the Church continues in its present form that truth will be wasted. Because our brains are dull the teaching of the Church do not bear fruit and the grace of God is being blocked. Those dying from old age or sickness cannot receive the Last Rites and go to their graves in sorrow. Those they leave behind endure in grief and are tired of life. Sorrow and pain are gradually eating into our hearts. Therefore, despite the dangers involved, we have on a number of occasions asked the Bishop of Beijing to help us. The bishop sympathizes with us in our concern and would like to send priests to give new life to souls that have fallen into sin, but he has no one available.

Having explained the situation in Korea in this way, they suggested that there might be missionaries in Macao who could come to their assistance. They went on to state the way that the priests should come, if they came by boat, how many sailors they would need, what dangers to avoid, the best places to land and how to handle any officials they might encounter.

When they had finished the letter to the Pope they gave it to the bishop. The bishop, in turn, sent it to the representative of the Congregation for Evangelization in Macao, Fr. Umpierres, who translated it into Latin and sent it on to the Pope on December 3, 1826. On their return to Korea, Yu Chin-gil Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul gave a full report to Nam Myong-hyok and the other leaders. News of the letter they had sent to the Pope gave new hope and courage to the fragile Church. When Yu Chin-gil Augustine returned home good news awaited him. He now had a son whom he named Tae-ch’ol Peter.

Due to appeals by You Chin-gil Augustine and his companions, Pope Gregory XVI, on September 9, 1831, established Korea as a Vicariate Apostolate separate from Beijing and appointed Bartholomew Bruguiere of the Paris Foreign Mission Society as its first bishop. This initiative was due to the letter of 1826 which so moved the Pope.

Bishop Bruguiere, who had been working in Bangkok, Thailand, received news of his appointment as first bishop of Korea sometime after July 25, 1832. Unfortunately, in his efforts to enter Korea, Bishop Bruguiere fell ill in Yodong while traveling towards Korea and died on October 20, 1835. This news soon reached Korea. You Chin-gil Augustine and his companions were much saddened, but determined to keep up their efforts to help other priests to enter the country. Meantime, You Chin-gil Augustine acted like a priest and converted many prominent people and scholars. However he couldn’t convert his own wife and daughters although his son followed him in faith. His 13-year old first son, You Tae-ch’ol Peter, became the youngest of the 103 Martyr Saints of Korea.

You Chin-gil Augustine was arrested at home in July of 1839. Many of his relatives begged him to renounce his religion, but he refused to do so. They reminded him of what would happen to his family, position and property, but You Chin-gil Augustine told them that it was more important to save souls than to take care of bodies, although he was sorry to cause trouble for them. The police chief interrogated. “As a government official, how can you adhere to a religion prohibited by the government? Reveal where the Catholics and the books are hidden.”You Chin-gil Augustine did not reveal anything, and so he was severely tortured on five occasions, and his flesh was torn apart.

The police chief asked You Chin-gil Augustine about Bishop Imbert and two other missionaries. Augustine told him that they came to Korea to teach Korean people about God and to help them save their souls. He said that the missionaries didn’t seek their own glory, wealth and pleasure. The police chief questioned who brought them to Korea. You Chin-gil Augustine said that he did. The police chief then brought in Bishop Imbert and questioned them together. The bishop told You Chin-gil Augustine that the government already knew that Fathers Maubant and Chastan were in Korea.

However, You Chin-gil Augustine refused to reveal the names of the Church leaders in Korea. His legs were twisted and tied with ropes, and were bleeding profusely.

Police interrogation continued. “This is not the sort of crime a stupid and low class person like you could do on your own. Who among the Catholics masterminded this? Since you have abandoned the beautiful customs and ritual of your country and accepted the treacherous ways of the foreigner, even if you were put to death ten thousand times, would the punishment not be too light? This is a solemn interrogation. So answer carefully without any deceit.” They stressed that since Catholic teaching was false, treacherous and anti-social, those who brought foreign priests into the country had committed treason.

However, You Chin-gil Augustine answered them calmly. “I have already told the investigating officers all that I did. Ten years ago I joined Chong Ha-sang Paul and his group in studying about the Catholic Church. When I reflected on what I learned, I realized that there are various sacraments and procedures in the Church which can be performed only by a priest. Since God is the supreme Lord of heaven and earth, we have to believe in Him and praise Him. The only crime I committed is to deceive the king since this teaching is prohibited in our country. I have already spent three months in jail. Among the Catholics I know, some have suffered the death penalty, some are held in prison and the rest have been scattered like the wind. Since I was born and have lived in the capital how could I know anything about the people in the country? If I have committed any great crime, I’m alone the responsible.” The police chief asked again. “How did you come to brake the law of the country and fall into these traitorous acts?” He replied. “how can you compare suffering the death penalty with going to hell after death? Which is the worse?” You Gin-gil Augustine said and did not want to argue with them further. So, he said. “I have nothing to say further. My only sin was to deceive the king.”

After this, You Chin-gil Augustine was tortured on two further occasions. His flesh was torn apart and his bones terribly crushed. But his faith did not waver and received the death sentence.

On September 22, 1839, You Chin-gil Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul were taken outside the Small West Gate in Seoul. On the way to the place of execution You Chin-gil Augustine showed no sign of fear. It was as if he had no interest in the things of the world and was lost in contemplation. With serene faces he was beheaded. You Chin-gil Augustine was beatified on July 5th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Korean martyrs5

Saint Kim Song-im Martha (1787-1839)

In the “Diary of the Persecution of 1839”, Saint Kim Song-im Martha is referred to as Pup’yong House, a title referring to the fact that she was married to someone from Pup’yong.

Kim Song-im was a 50-year old pagan widow. Her husband was of a very uncompromising temperament and they did not thave a peaceful relationship. This was before Kim Song-im became a Catholic. The situation became so bad taht she had no choice but to separate from her husband. She left quietly and went to live in Hanyang. There she met and lived with a blind man who made a living by telling fortunes. At this stage she was over fifty but she still had not learned about the Catholic faith.

One day she heard about the God and His Only Son, Jesus, from a Catholic who was living in the same house. With this encounter she began to believe in God and her faith grown eventually.

Life with her blind husband had been difficult but when he suddenly died Kim Song-im Martha’s future looked bleak. Some Catholic came to her aid. Martha began working in the houses of the Catholic firneds to repay their help. It was during this period that her faith grew deeper and she repented of her past sins, her inability to put up with her first husband and her subsenquent living by superstition.

At times Martha felt deep sorrow but in her total dependence on the Lord she came through her depression The concern and Christian example of the other Catholics made her realize and confirm how great is the love of God.

One day Martha was with Yi Magdalena, Yi Theresa and Kim Lucy talking about the persecution, the courageous martyrs and the happiness of Heaven. They were so deeply moved by the love of God that all decided to give themselves up to the government authorities to profess their faith.

They wanted to do mortification and sacrifice following the cross of Jesus Christ. The Hisotry of the Catholic Church in Korea says: “Voluntary surrrender is not in accordance with the ordinary rules. However, it might have been evoked by divine grace, or God might have given His tacit approval to them, because the women were steadfast in their faith and wanting to be witness of God by being martyrs. There are other laudable examples in church history, such as St. Plollina, St. Aurelia and others.”

By the end of March or in the beginning of April of 1839 these courageous women went to the police station and told the police to put them in prison because they were Catholics. To the unbelieving policemen they showed their rosaries. The police tied them up and put them in prison. Therefore, it can be easily understood that these pious women courageously endured all tortures and pains for the love of God.

The police chief interrogated the women.

“Do you believe that the Catholic religious in the true religion?”

“Of course, we do. Otherwise we woudln’t be here.”

“Deny God.”

“We can never deny God. Even if we have to dies.”

” Are you not afraid of turtures?”

“You are wasting time in persuading us to deny God. We surendered ourselves for the sake of God. How can we deny Him” We will die if required by the law of the country, but we can never deny God.”

They were repeatedly and severly tortured. The courageous women were sent to the higher court, where they were interrogated atain.

“Do you still believe that the Catholic religion is the tru religons?”

“Yes, we do. We worship God, and we are determined to die for Him.”

The police chief tortured the women more severly than others to punish them for surrendering themselves. But they didn’t succumb to him. They were finally sentenced to death.

According to the government Sungjongwon Diary, these four pious women and four otehr Catholics were beheaded outside the Small West Gate on July 20th, 1839. Martha was 53 years old, when she was killed for her faith.

She was beatified on July 25th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Won Kwi-im Maria (1819-1839)

Won Kwi-im Maria was boarn in 1819 in Yongmori, Kyuanggun. She lost her mother when she was a child, and followed her father, who wandered around begging for food. When she was nine years old, one of her relatives, Won Lucy, who was a very devout Catholic, took her and taught her prayers and the catechism. She also taught Maria embroidery for her lifelihood. Maria was very intelligent, genial and pious. Her aunt was proud of Maria’s devotion and faithfulness. Maria was baptized at the age of 15. Soon after that she received an offer of marriage. But she refused to be married because she wanted to offer herself to God. The next year she put her hair up in a style which indicated that she was a married woman.

Maria was accused of being a Catholic by a neighbor and was arrested. She looked a little discouraged when she first was put in prison. But she thought that everything was according to God’s Will, and regained her usual peacefulness. Mary was interrogated by the police chief.

“Are you a Catholic?”

“Yes, I am, as you say.”

“Deny God, and you will be saved.”

“I want to worship God and save my soul. If I have to die, I would rather die for God to save my soul.”

Maria’s legs were twisted and she was beaten with a cudgel. Many of her bones were dislocated, but her faith was not shaken.

According to the government document Sungjongwon Diary, Maria and seven other Catholics were beheaded outside the Small West Gate on July 20th, 1839. Maria was 22 years old, when she was crowned with martyrdom.

She was beatified on July 25th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.


Saint Kim Barbara (1805-1839)

Saint Kim Barbara was one of those who died of disease while in prison. According to Hyon Sok-mum Charles in the “Diary of the Persecution of 1839”, over sixty people died of torture and disease in prison.

In fact, while the pain of torture was terrible, every day prison life was even worse and unbearable. There were many who bravely witnessed through all forms of torture, but finally gave in because of the hunger and thirst. Given no more than two fistfuls of rice a day the prisoners were often reduced to eating the dirty straw they lay on. Also, with a large number of people crammed into the small cells, it was inevitable that disease would break out and spread very quickly. Bishop Daveluy, who would himself later die as a martyr, wrote of the prison situation: Our Catholics were packed in so tightly that they could not even spread out their legs to sleep. Compared to the suffering of imprisonment the pain of torture was nothing. On top of everything else the stench from their rotting wounds was unbearable and in the heat typhoid would break out killing several in a few days.

People like Kim Barbara suffered the extremes of prison life. Those in prison worried most whether they would live long enough to claim the glory of martyrdom from the executioner’s sword.

Kim Barbara was born to very poor family in Kyonggi Province. Her family was Catholic, but not very devout. At the age of thirteen Kim Barbara was sent as a servant to the wealthy Catholic family of Hwang Maria. It was there she spiritually met God and her devotion for Jesus grew. She was forthright and diligent, inscribing in her heart the teachings of the Lord. Very much aware of the Lord’s grace in her life, she was determined to remain a virgin.

One day her father came to tell her that a match had been made for her with a young Catholic man.

“It is very good match and we have already agreed to it so you must now prepare for marriage,” he told her.

“It is my wish to preserve my chastity for the Lord.”

“If husband and wife are both believers there are no obstacles for a faithful life and this match will be advantageous for you, so do not be so obstinate,” her father responded and she had no choice but to agree to the marriage.

However, it turned out that her husband was a pagan and all her efforts to convert him were of no use. She had several children of whom she only managed to baptize a daughter. Differences in faith created many difficulties between the couple and these problems were never resolved. After her husband’s death she was able to devote herself to prayers and good works.

With the arrival of foreign priests in the country she was able to lead a more fervent and happy spiritual life. Barbara was arrested in March, 1839, and subjected to torture, but she refused to apostatize or reveal the name of other Catholics. During the three months of her prison life she suffered from torture, hunger, thirst and disease. On May 27th, 1839, Kim Barbara died of typhoid fever lying on the dirty mat of her cell at age of thirty-five. She was beatified on July 5th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Korean martyrs6

Saint Kim Rosa (1784-1839)

In June 1839, Cho Pyong-ku who had a pathological hatred for Catholics took control of the Korean government. On July 5th, a decree came down to completely eradicate the Church. The first to be martyred after this decree were eight Catholics who were already in prison. Of these Kim Rosa was the first to have been arrested.

Kim Rosa was born in a non-Catholic family in 1784, Hanyang. She was married, but she and her husband subsequently separated. After the separation Kim Rosa went to live with a Catholic relative and this was her first contact with the Church. Although it was late in her life she happily applied herself to learning the doctrine. She was intelligent and could communicate well so she was able to make others understand the value of her belief. She taught her mother and older brother the truths of the faith helping them to repent of their past. Thus the family was able to live in harmony, practicing the teaching of the Church.

Kim Rosa lived according to her faith, examined her conscience frequently, repented her sins and prayed constantly. She had high respect for priests and did all she could to help them. She was a model to other Catholics.

On January 16th, 1838, in the middle of the night, the police surrounded her house but she did not show any concern. Happy that at last her time had come, she went to prison calling on the names of Jesus and Mary. She never betrayed her faith, but testified to all in the prison. Even the guards were impressed by her attitude. However, she could not avoid the fury of the government. When she first appeared before the judge he displayed all the instruments of torture before her and said,

“Criminal Kim Rosa, before we use these instruments to break your leg and lacerate your flesh, give up your God and report the names of other Catholics.”

“Judge! I cannot give up my God. He is the Creator and Father to all of us. He loves virtue and punishes sin, so how could I abandon Him? Harming others is also a sin. A long time ago I decided to shed my blood for these truths. Do as you please.”

“Listen to me, criminal. Your religion’s doctrine has been forbidden by our king, yet you still insist on belnging to that Church?”

“My body is now in the hands of the king but before that it belonged to God. We are all God’s sons and daughters. How is it that Your Excellency does not know this simple fact?”

The judge was furious and had her tortured before sentencing her to death. The sentence was carried out on July 20th, 1839. She was fifty-six years old. Kim Rosa was beatified on July 5th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Korean martyrs 8 Sts__Chong_Chong-hye_Elisabeth,_Yu_So-sa_Caecilia,_Chong_Ha-sang_Paulus_(Chung_Chang-sup,_98x75,_1985)

The Coming of Christianity To Korea

In 1984, Pope John Paul II visited the flat sands of the Han River and there forty seven Korean women, fort seven Korean men, seven French priests and three French Bishops, all martyred for their Christian faith, were canonized as saints. It was the first time that such a ceremony had been performed away from Rome. Those chosen were a representative group from among thousands who lost their lives refusing to renounce their religious beliefs.

John Paul described the Korean church as “a community unique in the history of the church.” Although her story is one of great suffering and endurance that is not what makes the coming of Christianity to Korea unique: it is unique because of the manner of its coming. It was a church formed without foreign missionaries and by lay people.

The first news of Christianity came to Korea in the seventeenth century. It entered via the caravan which travelled each winter to China – where, to Peking, goods, gifts and slaves would be taken in tribute to its powerful neighbour. Returning travelers brought news of agriculture, astronomy and mathematics – part of the early “scientific diplomacy” practiced by the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

The Cambridge scholar, historian and Fellow of Jesus College, Mary Laven, in her superb “Mission to China” charts the late sixteenth, early seventeenth century encounter of the remarkable Italian Jesuit, Matteo Ricci, with China. These were the ideas with which Korean travelers would connect.

Laven forensically analyses the challenges which faced Ricci and his compatriot, Michele Ruggieri, and details the more than two thousand conversions and the widespread dissemination of the Christian narrative which followed Ricci’s arrival in the Orient.

On reaching China the Europeans initially shaved their heads and dressed as monks but soon realised that by identifying with Buddhist and Taoist idolatry they were failing to reach the literati – the educated Confucian elite. So, Ricci chose instead to dress and behave as a Confucian scholar – engaging China’s culture and leadership through science, books and reason – fides et ratio.

“The Chinese have a wonderful intelligence, natural and acute” he wrote…”From which, if we could teach our sciences, not only would they have great success among these eminent men, but it would also be a means of introducing them easily to our holy law and they would never forget such a benefit.”

Unlike his more aggressive Portuguese and Spanish counterparts, whose presence in Macao became a source of conflict with the Chinese authorities, Ricci’s admiring embrace of Chinese culture, language and customs, gradually made him persona grata in many circles.

Ricci’s publication of his world map, the Mappamondo, along with translations of Western classical scholarship; his knowledge of astronomy and mathematics; his decision to import hitherto unknown musical instruments, such as the harpsichord, along with Venetian prisms and mechanical clocks, gained him acceptance and, despite occasional attempts to close the missions, the ultimate forbearance of the Emperor.

His legacy included astronomical instruments and installations brought by Jesuits to Beijing, which remained untouched even during China’s disastrous Cultural Revolution and may be seen to this day, beautifully preserved at Beijing’s Ancient Observatory. An even more enduring memory has been Ricci’s admirable willingness to find ways through difficult situations and his innate respect for Oriental culture and civilisation.

His reasoned approach also bore spiritual fruit – with the Jesuit’s work blessed by healings and miracles. In his diary, Ricci wrote: “From morning to night, I am kept busy discussing the doctrines of our faith. Many desire to forsake their idols and become Christians”.

Ricci brought the hugely admired Plantin Bible to China – eight gilded folio volumes with printed parallel texts in Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. His True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven was printed and distributed widely, drawing heavily on Aquinas but also appropriating Confucian ideas to bolster the Christian cause. He brilliantly re-positioned the important Chinese custom of ancestor worship by tracing everything back to “the first ancestor” – the Creator, the Lord of Heaven.

Among Ricci’s seventeenth century writings were his Catechism and a treatise “On Friendship” building on Confucius’ belief, expressed in the Analects, that “To have friends coming from distant places – is that not delightful?” Simultaneously Ricci introduced his readers to Cicero’s assertion that “the reasons for friendship are reciprocal need and mutual help.” Amicitia perfecta – perfect friendship – was, for Ricci, the highest of ideals. The Chinese came to value him as a true friend.

On his death, on May 11th 1610, he was uniquely accorded a burial site in Beijing by the Emperor – which, according to Laven was “an extraordinary coup, which testified to the success of nearly thirty years of careful networking and diplomacy.”

In 1644, thirty years after Ricci’s death, the Crown Prince of Korea returned to Seoul from Peking with five baptised Chinese eunuchs and three baptised Court ladies.

There are also accounts from the same period in Korean records mentioning England, France, and Catholicism. Books on Christianity became prized by certain young Koreans and some of Christianity’s radical teaching about the innate value of every person began to be discussed in a country where poverty was rife, worsened by the punishing strain of Manchu tutelage. The population topped five million but more Koreans died of famine and epidemics in 1671 than during all of Japan’s repeated raids and invasions. In the decades following people stole clothes from graves, babies were abandoned, and the starving were eating the dead. Floods added more misery.

It was in this climate that a young Korean intellectual, Yi Pyok, read about Christianity from Chinese books circulating among a group of friends. In 1777 he brought them together to make further study. They met in a Buddhist monastery happily known as The Hermitage of Heavenly Truth.

They concluded that the Confucian ideals of personal goodness, mutual forbearance, reverence for ancestors, meekness, dignity, and respect for the aged – the Confucian “way” – which permeates Korean culture- and, to this day, make Koreans such wonderful people – sat very comfortably with the Catholic tradition of the Christian faith.

Curious Korean youths were eager to plumb the depths of this religion, impressed by a doctrine where all were loved equally by God; and where they were struck by the Jesuit demands for justice for the poor and an end to slavery.

On a subsequent winter embassy to Peking one of Yi Pyok’s young associates, Yi Sunghun, travelled to China with his father and sought out the Christian community. He was baptized by a Jesuit and took the name Peter, returning to Korea in 1785.

Korea’s first priest, Father Zhou Wenmo from China, entered the country during the same period and ministered until 1794. There would not be another priest for 35 years. Yet without missionaries or priests, belief in Christ spread rapidly, first among the nobles and educated, then protected by these aristocrats, among thousands of poor.

Within a year of Yi Sunghun pilgrimage to Peking, in 1786 a secret church had been established in Pyongyang. The authorities raided the house church and discovered a prayer group. The owner of the house, Thomas Kim, was so badly injured during interrogation that he died of the injuries.

That same year, 1786, belief in Christ had been banned. Notwithstanding its Asian antecedents Christianity was perceived by most powerful Koreans as “western learning” and as such treacherous, dangerous. It omitted ancestor worship and was therefore considered “opposed to human morality”.

State hostility was harsh, even toward the royals and members of the nobility who had converted. In 1790 there were 4,000 believers in Korea, and while there were executions every year, by 1800 the number of believers had risen to 10,000. In 1801 more than 300 Christians were executed.

One fearful Christian penned a letter to Jesuits in China appealing for military protection. The letter was intercepted and brought to Korea’s dowager Queen. Immediately she decreed that to hold the evil learning was high treason. Capital persecution now became policy.

Some Christians died in prison. Many others recanted their faith. One who had renounced his beliefs and then returned to the faith and given himself up, was sentenced to “25 blows of the big paddle”. The beating left him insensible and a few hours later dead. Yi Sunghun (who had been baptised as Peter Yi), would, like his name sake, also, under pressure, repudiated his faith but then re-embraced it and in 1801 was martyred along with three hundred others, including two royal princesses.

Many of the ordeals faced by prisoners are described in Martyrs of Korea by the late Msgr. Richard Rutt ( a noted Korean scholar and one time Anglican Bishop of Korea, Canon Rutt became a priest of the Plymouth Diocese and was given the title Monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI) : “a cord was passed under the thighs, crossed over the front then held taut by men on either side who applied a sawing motion that cut through the flesh like a cheese-cutter, right to the bone”. Prisoners were given boiled millet twice a day. Those who could not buy or acquire more food were reduced to eating the foul straw and lice. Many who had not recanted under torture, cracked because of prison.

Intermittently, itinerant priests arrived in the country – most were executed. For 35 years the fledgling church was without a single priest. Only one sacrament could be given – and thousands came forward to be baptised.

In 1834, a French priest, Fr Pierre Maubant, who had been working in Sichuan in Western China, volunteered to go to Korea to minister to the country’s Christians.

Border guards along the Yalu River would not allow Europeans to enter so Fr Pierre waited until the river froze. In January 1836 he crossed into Korea, taking two weeks to walk to Seoul where he was greeted by a Chinese priest called Fr Pacifico. From there he arranged for three young men to be smuggled out to Macao to study as seminarians. He was joined by another Frenchman, Fr Jacques Chastan, and in 1838, a third, Laurent Imbert, who became the first bishop of the Korean diocese.

To conceal their features the three men wore capacious Korean mourning costumes and very wide-brimmed hats. They carried out their duties at night, three priests for thousands of believers. Within weeks 2,000 had been baptised bringing the total number of Korean Christians to 9,000. Two years later, with two other priests, he was decapitated. Hundreds of Korean Christian suffered the same brutal fate, including many members of the same family: fathers along with their sons and daughters, wives and mothers.

Typical was Peter Yu, aged 13, who was tortured on 14 occasions. In his defiance he even picked up shreds of his own flesh and threw them before his interrogators. He was strangled in the prison in October 1839. 150 years later he would be among those canonized by John Paul II.

Perhaps most famous among the Korean martyrs is St.Andrew Kim, born on August 21st 1821. His parents had become Christians. His father, Blessed Ignatius Kim, was martyred in 1839. Andrew was baptized at the age of fifteen.

He was one of the three seminarians who had been secreted out of Korea by Fr Pierre Maubant five year earlier in 1836. The British consul in Shanghai had arranged shelter for him and having, in 1844, become the first Korean to be ordained as a priest and having experiencing all sorts of adventures attempting to return to his homeland, later that year he crossed the Yalu River. By the autumn of 1846 Father Andrew Kim was on trial. He impressed the judges with his eloquence and good manners, and they might have considered a lenient sentence. But during the trial two French warships, commanded by Admiral Cecile, appeared off the Korean coast. The admiral sent insulting letters to the King, demanding an accounting for the deaths of the three French clergy, and saying he would return the following year. This soured the mood against those who colluded with foreigners. Fr Kim’s fate was sealed

Andrew Kim, aged just 25, was arrested, stripped naked, and decapitated. On 16th September 1846, he was taken to the Han sands and beheaded, proclaiming as he died:

“This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.”

It required eight strokes of the sword to kill Andrew Kim. Customarily his head would have been displayed on a pole for three days but the authorities were afraid of the public reaction. They buried Kim immediately.

Forty days later his relics were recovered and in 1984 he was among those canonized by John Paul II – one of at least 8,000 Korean martyrs from the time the first house church was planted in Pyongyang.

Pyongyang, -which is located on a majestic S-curve of the Taedong River– would become known as “the Jerusalem of the East” because of the scale of Christian conversion which followed the Great Revival of 1907 – would itself be the scene of another hugely significant martyrdom.

It occurred in 1866 – twenty years after the execution of Andrew Kim and during a year of increased persecution. What happened links Korea’s Christian story to a small chapel in South Wales and also to one of North Korea’s most hopeful contemporary stories, the creation of a university of science and technology, of which the author is a trustee. The tale is recounted by Stella Price, with whom I was in North Korea in 2011, in her “Chosen for Chosun”. It is the story of a remarkable Welshman.

Robert Jermain Thomas was born in Rhayadar South Wales in 1839. He enlisted with the London Missionary Society and in 1863 he went to Peking where his wife, Caroline, died of fever.

In 1865 Thomas met two Korean traders who told him that there were about 50,000 Catholics in Korea, and they recounted the story of how Koreans had spread the Christian message and baptised many others. .

Funded by the Scottish Bible Society Robert Thomas decided to take bibles to the beleaguered Catholic community. He obtained work as an interpreter on the American schooner the General Sherman and as the boat traveled around Korea Thomas handed out Bibles. Near Pyongyang the boat became involved in an altercation with the Korean army and Thomas leapt overboard with his Bibles and, while calling on the name of Jesus, he handed them to the angry crowd which had gathered at the river side.

It is said that he handed out more than 500 Bibles before being captured and executed, giving his lat one to his executioner. The authorities ordered the people to destroy the Bibles they had received. However, some removed the pages and used them as wallpaper in their homes. It was from these people that a Presbyterian congregation would be formed. One of its leaders was Thomas’ executioner, who, having picked up Thomas’s own bible, and impressed by the Welshman’s courage and ardor, read the Scriptures and later asked for baptism. The executioner’s son would, in turn, become an Elder of the Presbyterian church – the Thomas Memorial Church.

After Thomas’ execution Pyongyang was subsequently visited for two weeks in 1890 by the American Presbyterian, Samuel A.Moffett. He returned the next year with James Scarth Gale and in 1893 returned to establish a mission station – which, despite attempts on his life, opened in 1895. By 1935 the 120 acre Presbyterian campus consisted of secondary academies for boys and girls; a college; industrial shops; a facility for the provision o vocational training for abandoned wives and widows; a seminary; a Bible school; a foreign school; the Union Christian Hospital and the West Gate Presbyterian Church.

Thomas’ church was destroyed by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. It is, however, the site where Pyongyang University of Science and Technology ( PUST) now stands. Its founder and President, Dr. James Kim, believes it is “the hand of God bringing two histories together.”

After the ferocious wave of persecutions in 1866 a trade treaty was concluded with the United States. This Treaty of Amity and Trade, concluded in 1882, included a clause requiring toleration and protection for Christian missionaries. Proselytising was still forbidden but missionaries were permitted to embark on educational and medical initiatives. This is turn led, in 1884, to the arrival of Horace Allen, the first American missionary in Korea, to be followed by Horace Underwood in 1885. These Presbyterians were followed by Methodists, including Henry Appenzeller.

The Korean King, Gojong, allowed Allen to establish previously unknown Western medical facilities – initially known as The House of Extended Grace and later as the House of Universal Helpfulness – and to train Koreans in Western medicine. Gojong granted Appenzeller permission to open a school- Pai Chai Hak Dang – and Underwood created an orphanage – later becoming Gyeongsin High School. Mary Scranton, meanwhile, with the support of Queen Min, created Korea’s first school for girls at Ewha Hak Dang. From these seeds, some of the great Korean schools and universities would germinate and grow.

Christianity was also having a fundamental impact on the mores of Korean society. Despite the clash over ancestor worship (which often arose from a mistaken belief that Koreans deified their ancestors rather than venerating their memory) there was much which Koreans had embraced in Christian teaching and which revolutionised feudal attitudes towards women and children. From the outset, in the eighteenth century, the Catholic Church allowed widow to remarry ( normally not permitted in East Asia); it prohibited concubinage and polygamy; it forbade cruelty to or desertion of wives; and . Catholic parents were taught that each of their children – girls and boys – was a precious gift from God – not merely the first-born son. Along with the other denominations which arrived in Korea it insisted that girls should be educated as well as boys. The Church also placed a prohibition on the traditional arranged child marriages.

Beyond all this activity a new danger was, however, looming – one which would shape contemporary Korea and the role of the Christian community: the invasion of the peninsula and its occupation by Japan. The Japanese would rule Korea from 1905 until 1945 and the refusal of many Christians to worship the Japanese emperor would lead to more martyrdom – and ruptures within the Christian community as those who collaborated were ostracised. This, in turn, would lead to the identification of Christianity with Korean nationalism and independence and increase its standing, reputation and reach within the Republic of Korea during the post war years.

Open discontent with Japanese rule erupted on March 1st, 1919, with a Proclamation of Independence and the emergence of the March First Movement which saw many street demonstrations led by Christians and followers of the Cheondogyo native Korea religion challenging Japanese rule. The predominantly Catholic Ulmindan (Righteous People’s Army, a movement for independence) was formed and a Methodist, Syngman Rhee – a future South Korean President – formed a Korean Government-in-exile. Hatred of the Japanese was consolidated as seven million people were either exiled or deported and Japan sought to culturally assimilate Korea’s people – even banning the Korean language. As the world came to terms with the enormity of Japanese ambitions, and became embattled in the Second World War, in Korea worship at Shinto shrines became mandatory, and any attempt to preserve Korean identity or culture was asphyxiated.

A similar asphyxiation – this time of religion itself – would follow the withdrawal of the defeated Japanese from the peninsula accompanied by the severance of Korea, divided by the Korean War, at the 38th parallel.

In 1945, at the end of Japanese occupation there was still a thriving Christian presence in Pyongyang although different factions had emerged – some had chosen to collaborate with the Japanese, others were persecuted. That year Presbyterian Ministers Yoon Ha-yong and Han Kyong-jik, formed the Christian Social Democratic Party, the first political party in North Korea. Communists raided a planning meeting at a church in Yong-am-po, resulting in the death of twenty three people. Meanwhile, in Pyongyang, Kim Hwa-sik, a Christian leader was arrested with forty others, as they met to create a Christian Liberal Party.

The Communists then enrolled a Protestant Minister, Kang Yang-uk, Kim IL Sung’s maternal uncle, one of the Christian Ministers who had told believers to worship at Shinto shrines during Japanese rule. In 1946 they helped him establish his pro-Communist Christian League. By 1949 those who refused to collaborate and to join the League were being rounded up and thrown in jail. Simultaneously, church property (along with 15,000 Buddhist temples) was being confiscated and schools and other church-run projects sequestrated. Divisions and denominational rivalries – and the mistaken belief that they could simply remain quiet and survive – had blinded many Korean Christians to the enormity of the threat which Communism posed. Typical of the consequence was the massacre which occurred in a cave at Wonsan, where the mass murder of 530 religious and political dissenters, many of them children, occurred. A journalist who visited the site in October 1950, as the North Korea army retreated, described the carnage, a mass grave of twisted bodies, many of them women and children, all shot in the back of the neck.

Another foretaste of what awaited Christians in the new Communist State was the fate of some of the Christian clergy captured during the hostilities.

In 1955 one of the most vivid accounts of these depredations appears in a harrowing account by an Australian Columban missionary priest, Fr.Philip Crosbie.

“March Till They Die” is the story of his imprisonment between 1950 and 1953.

Unlike seven of his Columban colleagues who died in prison, Philip Crosbie survived to tell his story.

Those who paid with their lives included the Chicago born Msgr. Pat Brennan and Fr.Tony Collier, who worked with Fr.Crosbie at the mission station of Chunchon.

During his epic ordeal Fr.Crosbie and others imprisoned with him, were marched from place to place, given starvation rations, and frequently left exposed to the elements.

One of his companions was Msgr. Thomas Quinlan who originated from Thurles in Tipperary – one of a pioneering group of Columban missionaries who went to Korea from Ireland – and Fr.Frank Canavan from Galway. Another was a Maryknoll priest, Bishop Patrick Byrne.

Others on the forced march included a captured group of Carmelite nuns along with French nuns from the Community of St.Paul of Chartres, and their provincial superior, 76-year-old Mother Beatrix.

They were later joined by other prisoners: members of the British and French Legations in Seoul; the Anglican Bishop, Cecil Cooper, and the Reverend Charles Hunt; members of the Methodist mission; Herbert Lord, head of the Salvation Army in Korea; and a clutch of South Korean politicians. Later they were joined by a group of American Prisoners of War.

The title of Fr.Crosbie’s book is drawn from the remarks of a North Korean major.

When Commissioner Lord protested that many of the group was elderly or infirm “…but they will die if they have to march” the Korean major responded “Then let them march until they die.”

Following his capture in July 1950 Fr.Crosbie saw many deaths and terrible suffering. Among the fatalities was Mother Beatrix – who had given more than fifty years of her life caring for the sick, the poor and orphans in Korea.

When she could walk no further and lay by the roadside one of the guards shot her dead.

On November 18th, Mother Mechtilde – a Belgian Carmelite succumbed and was followed, on November 25th, by that of Bishop Byrne.

Fr.Crosbie records his burial “The only sign of his rank was a light cassock of black silk, with red buttons and piping. The buttons under their covering of red cloth were of metal. Some day they may help to identify the remains.”

Charles Hunt and Fr.Canavan died a few days later.

The remaining prisoners were marched ever onwards – and their peregrinations took them to the River Yalu (close to where the American journalists would be arrested in 2009), to the Chinese border, and back again to Pyongyang. Some, including Msgr Quinlan, Bishop Cooper and Herbert Lord, survived and were eventually freed.

Msgr. Quinlan would return to South Korea in 1954 as Regent to the Apostolic Delegation.

In 1953, on May 25th, Fr.Crosbie was handed over to an official of the Soviet Union, taken to Moscow and was freed. Staff at the Australian Embassy welcomed him: “And so”, he wrote, “I came to freedom.”

Movingly, describing his return to “laws that respect an individual’s freedom while providing for the good of the State; …a land where the Muses are not completely chained to the chariots of politicians; where books and newspapers are freely published, and I can freely read them. …All this I prize; but I have gained a still greater and more precious freedom. It is the freedom to believe in God and openly profess my faith.” Philip Crosbie prized his regained freedom but he also observed that the cruelty and atrocities had not only flowed in one direction and he had seen enough to know that the South Koreans had blood on their hands, too.

He concluded his account with a prayer for those who did not live to see freedom; and a prayer for those who had captured and abused them: “May there be none of us who will not find Him at the end!”

Kim IL Sung’s antagonism towards Christianity stemmed from his embrace of Marxism and his belief that Korean Christians and his American opponents in the Korean War amounted to one and the same thing. Although his mother, Kang Pan-sok, was a Presbyterian deaconess, in his writings Kim IL Sung frequently criticized religion. North Korean literature and movies caricature religion as a negative force and as unscientific while the Juche philosophy of self reliance has been presented as an alternative.

In Article 14 of his 1948 Constitution, Kim IL Sung did, however, decree that “citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shall have the freedom of religious belief and of conducting religious services.” By 1972 this had been modified to permit “freedom to oppose religion” (Article 54) of the 1972 constitution, which amounted to open season – and open hostility – on religious adherents.

Further modification came in 1992 with Article 68 granting freedom of religious belief and the right to construct buildings for religious use and religious ceremonies. It, too, was tempered by a prohibition on any person using religion “to drag in foreign powers or to destroy the state or social order.” Social order, of course, refers to every aspect of the tightly controlled apparatus of the state.

So, regardless of the theoretical constitutional provisions, what is known about the fate of the Jerusalem of the East and of North Korea’s Christian believers?

Comprising around 47,000 square miles and around 23 million people North Korea has an unknown number of religious believers – although the Government claim there are around 10,000 Protestants, 4,000 Catholics, 10,000 Buddhists and 40,000 Chendogyo practitioners.

Religious Intelligence UK suggests different numbers: 64.3% professing atheism; 16% followers of Korean Shamanism; 13.5% Chendoists; 4.5%. Buddhists; and 1.7% (406,000) Christian.

In Pyongyang there are four Christian churches which are heavily controlled by the State: two Protestant churches —the Chilgol (dedicated to the memory of Kim IL Sung’s mother, Kang Pan-sok) and Bongsu churches— the Changchung Roman Catholic Church, opened in 1988, and a new Russian Orthodox Church, opened in 2006. No Catholic priest has been permitted to serve in North Korea for more than sixty years, and North Korea has refused to normalise its relations with the Holy See – which would send an immediate signal to the world’s one billion Catholics that North Korea wants friendly relations with Catholic people.

Since 1988 there has been some attempt to use the churches to open dialogue beyond North Korea’s borders and agencies such as the Catholic relief organisation, Caritas, have been permitted to bring food and medicine into the country. However, the officials who run the Korean Christian Federation are Party officials whose job is to control not to enable. But, in a hopeful move, it is reported that five North Koreans have been selected by Cardinal Nicholas Chung Jin-Suk to study at Seoul’s Incheon University. It would be a highly significant step forward if they are permitted to return to the North once ordained.

Such pastoral provision was “an unfulfilled dream” of the widely admired and revered late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-Hwan – the great champion of Korean freedom and democracy. It is an aspiration which, during each of our visits, Lady Cox and I have repeatedly raised with the officials who control religious belief. In another conciliatory move the North Koreans have also extended an official invitation to Dr.Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, to visit the country.

Another development has seen the visit of some South Korean Protestant pastors to the North and they have been permitted to hold regulated services in their churches and to carry out extensive refurbishment and to build a small seminary. The students pursue a five-year course and are then admitted to the Korean Christian Fellowship as pastors upon graduation.

The author has visited all four churches and has spoken to the congregation at the Changchung Catholic church and met with members of the congregations at the other churches. At Changchung I met Jang Jae On, the Communist Party official who regulates religious belief.

Much about these “Potemkin” – or show churches – is aimed at creating an illusion of religious freedom but, not-withstanding the illusion, the author has had conversations with a handful of North Koreans who have favourably mentioned their family’s religious antecedents and understood the value and importance of religious belief.

Wholly unverifiable reports suggest that there may be several hundred permitted family worship centres and many more underground unregulated house churches.

In Anju, a town about 80 kilometers north of Pyongyang, visited by the author, the mayor said that Catholics meet in the rubble of their church, destroyed during the Korean War, and have continued to do so every Sunday without pastors.

However, it is those Christians who refuse to be controlled by the State whose fate is the most disturbing.

Becoming an illicit Christian is a serious crime. Some who have escaped say that they had never seen a church or a Bible before leaving the country. Many are in camps or prison – where they are kept in horrific conditions, fed on starvation rations. Deprived of sleep they are crammed into overcrowded cells. They are unable to even lie down straight.

In 2011 there were further reports of the execution of Christians in North Korea. At least 20 other Christians were arrested and sent to Camp No. 15 in Yodok.34 . In several meetings, I raised this case with North Korean officials, but was told that these reports were “lies” and that the execution of Christians was “impossible”

The United Nations estimate that 400,000 people have died in the camps in the past 30 years. Ironically, many of the barbaric practices which characterise the camps were pioneered by the Japanese during their occupation of the Korean Peninsular. After the Korean War, the Communist regime in the North and the military dictatorship in the South used many of the same methods to stamp out dissent.

Since being elected Chairman of the British Parliamentary All Party Group on North Korea seven years ago I have chaired several open hearings at Westminster where we have taken evidence and heard first hand accounts from North Koreans who have escaped from prison camps – and these have included Christians.

Yoo Sang-joon was a North Korean Christian defector who came to Westminster eight years ago. Having seen his wife and children die during the famine he has become an Asian Raoul Wallenberg, bravely re-entering North Korea and helping people flee across the border. This led to his arrest by the Chinese, who as a result of international representations showed clemency and repatriated him to South Korea rather than the North as they had originally intended.

On one occasion we were addressed by two diminutive North Korean women who, speaking through an interpreter, recounted their experiences in North Korean prison camps. From time to time their stories were interrupted as the women wept.

Jeon Young-Ok is 40. When she was a little girl her mother took the family across the Tumen River to try and flee to China. They were caught and her father and brother imprisoned. Her mother died of a heart disease and left her three children alone. Years later, now married with three children of her own, Jeon managed to make furtive forays from North Korea into China to secure money and food for her children. Twice she was apprehended and jailed.

Movingly she told the parliamentary hearing: “I couldn’t bear to die with my children in my arms. As long as I was alive I couldn’t just watch them die.” Many of her compatriots were among the 2 million who starved to death during the 1990s famine.

In China Mrs.Jeon remained at risk “nowhere was safe.” If she was caught the Chinese would send her back. And this is exactly what happened to her. Caught in 1997 and again in 2001 – she was sent to Northern Pyeong -an Detention Camp.

“I was put in a camp where I saw and experienced unimaginable things. We were made to pull the beards from the faces of elderly people. Prison guards treated them like animals. The women were forced to strip. A group of us were thrown just one blanket and we were forced to pull it from one another as we tried to hide our shame. I felt like an animal, no better than a pig. I didn’t want to live.”

Jeon Young-Ok added: “They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it.”

Despite all this, she harbours no hatred for her country and shows extraordinary fortitude and equanimity: “The past is not important but these terrible things are still happening in North Korea. These camps should be abolished forever.”

Those camps were created at the conclusion of the Korean War when many Christians fled from the Communist North and from what they knew would be the beginning of another period of phenomenal persecution.

Chastened and strengthened by the suffering which had preceded the emergency of the South’s Republic of Korea came a determination that they would not settle for a military dictatorship or for a degraded form of totalitarianism. Christianity has, therefore, been the leitmotif against which South Korea’s social and political policies have been formed. In particular, during the 1970s a theology called Minjung evolved. Minjung is formed from Chinese character min which means people while the character jung means the mass. When combined the phrase translates as the common people.

Minjung theology interprets the Bible, history and the political challenges of the

moment in relationship to their working out and impact on the common people not

on the rulers, the politically powerful or economic elites. Jesus’ appearance in

history is a defining moment for the common people – and betokens the need for

justice, mercy and compassion for the common people. During the 1970s

dictatorship of General Park the theology manifested itself in the emergence of

several Christian initiatives such as the Catholic Farmers Movement and the

Protestant Urban Industrial Mission, which campaigned for better remuneration

and working conditions for agricultural and industrial workers; a period of

widespread social unrest. It was also a key influence on two men who served prison

sentences for their democratic beliefs and who would be future Presidents o the

Republic of Korea, following the restoration of democracy in 1988, Kim Young

Sam, a Presbyterian, and Kim Dae Jung, a Catholic.

The story of Christianity on the Korean peninsula seems to be the perfect proof of Tertullian’s ancient assertion that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church”. The shedding of so many lives did not deter Koreans from embracing Christianity. As St.Augustine Yu, who was martyred along with his wife, son and brother, said: “Once having known God, I cannot possibly betray him.”

As the Christian faith was passed from father to son, from mother to daughter, some families would produce four generations of martyrs. One of those who would die for his faith was John Kim Bo Hyeon. His life ended in prison while preaching his faith to his fellow inmates. His grandson, Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, born in 1922, and doubtless inspired by the heroic witness of his grandfather, would become Korea’s first Catholic Cardinal, outspoken defender of human rights, and fearless opponent of military dictatorship. His Cathedral church in Seoul, Myeongdong Cathedral, where some of the relics of the early martyrs are preserved and honoured, would become the scene of the twentieth century showdown between democracy protestors and the military dictatorship of South Korea

Perhaps his family history was also the necessary preparation for his service as Apostolic Administrator of the Pyongyang Diocese of North Korea – which he was never allowed to visit and where the church would be violently suppressed by the Communists in the aftermath of the Korean War.

But on a happier note, I allowed myself a wry smile that as I arrived for my third visit to North Korea with my colleague (Baroness) Caroline Cox in 2010, aboard an Air China plane, the piped music which accompanied our landing was Isaac Watts’ Christmas hymn, “Joy to the world! The Lord has come! Let earth receive her King.” Along with the sight of diplomats from the once Marxist Russia arriving to worship at Pyongyang’s Russian Orthodox church, I couldn’t help reflecting on twists in ideological and social history. Although Marx was wrong in suggesting that religion is “the opium of the people” perhaps the rest of that much cited quotation does has great application and resonance in the story of Korea where: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of the soulless condition.”


Korean martyrs

The following text was compiled by the late Monsignor Richard Rutt, one time Anglican Bishop of Korea and later Catholic priest of the Plymouth Diocese. Published by the Catholic Truth society it is no longer in print.



Msgr.Richard Rutt

All booklets are published thanks to the

generous support of the members of the

Catholic Truth Society




Land of Morning Calm ……………………………………………………4

A Chinese culture …………………………………………………………5

Confucianism ………………………………………………………………6

Buddhists and shamans …………………………………………………7

Science and democracy …………………………………………………8

A Church founded without missionaries ………………………….9

The First Martyrs ………………………………………………………….12

A woman in charge …………………………………………………….13

Arrest and torture ……………………………………………………….15

Execution …………………………………………………………………..17

1801, The Year of the White Cock ……………………………….19

Thirty-five years waiting for a priest ……………………………..20

French missionaries ………………………………………………………23

A pastoral bishop ………………………………………………………..26

1839, The Year of the Yellow Pig ………………………………..27

Three men and four women, 24 May 1839 …………………….28

One man and seven women, 20 July 1839 ……………………..29

The maker of straw shoes …………………………………………….30

Father of a priest …………………………………………………………31

The good shepherd gives up his life for the sheep …………..32

Strong women ……………………………………………………………35

Three male martyrs and three more women ……………………37

Boy martyr ………………………………………………………………..38



Paul’s mother …………………………………………………………….39

Winter martyrs …………………………………………………………..39

Strangulations …………………………………………………………….40

Five men and five women ……………………………………………41

Rebellions and poor harvests ……………………………………….45

Saint Andrew Kim …………………………………………………………47

Eight friends ………………………………………………………………52

A twenty-year lull ………………………………………………………54

1866, The Year of the Red Horse…………………………………..56

8,000 martyrs ………………………………………………………………..59

Princess Mary …………………………………………………………….60

The martyrs’ heritage ………………………………………………….61

Flowering of the Church in Korea ………………………………….63

Korean Martyrs inscribed in the list of Saints …………………63

103 Martyrs of Korea Canonised 6 May 1984 …………………67

The Korean names in this story are pronounced with consonants as in

English, vowels as in Italian. The sound for ö varies from that of o in

‘word’ to that of o in ‘song’; and the sound for ü resembles that of oo in

‘book’. The surname Ch’oe sounds like chwè.

Canon Richard Rutt worked as missionary in Korea for 20 years. He is

now attached to St Mary Immaculate, Falmouth, Cornwall. (Honorary

D.Litt. of the Confucian University, Seoul. Joint author with Keith Pratt

of Korea: a Historical and Cultural Dictionary, London 1999.)



Korea in the late 18th century was a land of peace and

prosperity. There were poor people in plenty, but the

harvests were generally good, there was no trouble

from abroad, and the King maintained a benevolent rule

that kept the court free of the bloody strife to which it

was so liable.

The country was beautiful. Even in the broadest of

rice-growing plains, the horizon was lined with blue

peaks: distant mountains covered with luxuriant forest

trees, among which Siberian tigers roamed. In spring

apricot and peach blossom canopied the villages, while

the hills were veiled with bright purple azaleas. High

summer brought bright green foliage, autumn a rich medley

of gold, scarlet and purple. In winter the bald rocks

and dark pines were draped in frost and snow. Bamboo

delighted poets at all times of the year.

The common people’s houses, both in the cities and in

the villages that nestled on the sunny slopes of the hills,

were built of cob and stone with mushroom-shaped roofs

of barley thatch. The houses of the gentry were more elaborate,

built of wood with grey tiled roofs turning up at the

eaves in Chinese style, with windows of white paper

stretched on delicate wooden lattices; but without upper

storeys. Similar graceful roofs covered Confucian temples

near the towns, and Buddhist temples hidden in the deep

mountain valleys. Nearly every beauty spot had its kiosk

or pavilion, where in spring and autumn local men would

hold picnics at which they all composed Chinese poems.

A Chinese culture

Every educated man could turn out verses in Chinese

rhyme and metre. Education was indeed restricted to mastering

the classical Chinese language – pronounced in a

Korean fashion – in order to read Chinese literature and

Chinese history. All serious books and papers were written

in Chinese, and Korean personal names were modelled

on Chinese names: surname first, given name afterward,

two or three syllables in all. As in China, there

were very few surnames, and married women retained

their maiden names.

The king was theoretically a vassal of the Chinese

Emperor and sent tribute to Beijing every year. Apart from

this annual embassy and a few tightly controlled annual

markets at border towns, the country had no relations with

foreigners. Like China and Japan, Korea was a closed land,

allowing neither foreigners in nor its own people out.

Yet the Koreans were a distinctive non-Chinese race

with their own language, distantly related to Manchu and

other north-east Asian languages. In the 15th century a

gifted king had created an alphabet that all but the most

underprivileged knew, but only women and labourers



used very much. Chinese was the only writing for men –

save that they too enjoyed the popular novels and songs

that could be written only in Korean.


With Chinese writing came Confucianism, which provided

Korea’s whole philosophy, morals, manners and politics.

Confucius himself was a Chinese sage who flourished at

the beginning of the 5th century BC and taught a ‘way’

based on personal goodness, mutual forbearance, reverence

for ancestors and respect for seniors. Confucian temples

were simply halls for honouring ancestors and great sages.

There were no priests or monks: the head of the family or

community officiated at ancestral sacrifices, and there was

no other form of worship, though there were meetings for

instruction of the young and for discussion of principles.

There was a concept of Heaven, which meant both the sky

and a vaguely defined universal deity. Some scholars, both

oriental and Western, have thought that this Heaven was

another name for God, but the records of the 19th-century

martyrs’ trials show that this was not the opinion of most

Koreans at that time.

The state was carefully constructed on a Confucian pattern.

The king’s power was absolute, and since there was

no parliament, there could be no political parties. There

was, however, an unwieldy bureaucracy that provided the

only career possible for a gentleman. Financial corruption


and factional strife were endemic. One group would accuse

another of treason or of Confucian heresy, and when the

accusation was upheld, the losers were banished to remote

corners of the country or barbarously executed. One of the

reasons for 18th-century prosperity was the success of a

strong king in putting an end to most of these bloodbaths.

Buddhists and shamans

The heart of Confucian morality was the family. It was

a moral duty to marry and have children – celibacy was

very wrong in Confucian eyes. Family ancestral sacrifices

were the core of Confucian religious practice, and

were seen as vital for the unity of the nation. The ceremonies

were stately and solemn, strictly non-emotional.

They were important for bonding men in both local and

national society; but women were excluded. Even had

they not been excluded, they found little comfort in the

stark rituals. Buddhism, on the other hand, had many

prayers, rosaries and ceremonies with incense and

lights, which were all more appealing to women. In the

Middle Ages it had been the state religion, but the

power and politicking of monks had been so abused

that since the 16th century no Buddhist temples or

monasteries had been allowed in urban areas. The relatively

small numbers of monks and nuns withdrew to

the mountains, where women of all social classes

flocked for picnic and pilgrimage.



There was also a third religious strand: shamanism.

Every village would have at least one shaman, usually a

woman, a medium who would call up spirits in nightlong

ceremonies in clients’ homes. The noise of her gongs,

songs and dances went on from dusk to dawn. This was a

primitive faith with no formalised doctrine, but with a

strong hold on the people.

As for Christianity, well-read men had sometimes

heard of it. Since the Churches of the Reformation had

not yet begun missions in East Asia, for Koreans

‘Christian’ meant ‘Catholic’. They knew there were some

Christians in China; but Christianity had been virtually

extinguished in Japan, and was kept out of Korea because

of respect for Confucius.

Science and democracy

Korea’s unified society, apparently so contented and stable,

had in-built flaws, of which none was more keenly felt than

the rigid class structure. The educated gentry enjoyed everything

that was good in life. They had the privileges of an

aristocracy and used their position to extort all they could

from the labourers and the poor, who survived at subsistence

level. Outdoor folk plays gave vent to their sense of injustice,

and the gentry themselves wrote satirical poems about

it, but the social system seemed indestructible. Illegitimate

sons were most likely to nurse discontent, because the social

class of a gentleman’s son was determined by the rank of his



mother. While the sons of a rich man’s wife would be gentlemen,

their half-brothers, born to his concubines, would be

slaves. There were many such illegitimate men, highly conscious

of injustices of all kinds, and from time to time they

raised rebellions. Thoughtful people realised that the class

system needed to be changed.

Intellectual change was coming too. At the beginning

of the 17th century, western scientific ideas had begun to

interest the Chinese, not least because of the mathematical

and astronomical skills of the French Jesuit mission in

Beijing. Western ideas began to enter Korea when

Chinese books, some of them Christian, were brought

back in the baggage of men who had been with the annual

embassy to Beijing at the winter solstice. Not all Koreans

were impressed; but many became interested in the new

mathematics, better agricultural methods, novel building

techniques and developments in machinery. In a society

that had always treasured the ancient above all, some of

the younger scholars started valuing what was new. There

was no organised movement, but 20th-century historians

named the new wave ‘practical learning’.

A Church founded without missionaries

One of these young intellectuals was 30-year-old Yi Pyök.

He was intrigued by what he read in books from China

that were circulating among his friends. He discovered

that the God of the Christians loved all men equally. This


very reasonable doctrine might lead to changes in social

justice. Perhaps he overestimated the stress placed on this

point by the Catholic Church of that period, but it led him

to further study of the Christian religion, and in 1777 he

gathered a few friends of his own age for group study.

Such quasi-retreat seminars were typical of the time. They

met in a small Buddhist monastery south of the River Han

near Seoul, auspiciously named Ch’önjin-sa ‘Hermitage of

Heavenly Truth’. Politically they were all connected with

an old faction that was now in the political wilderness and

had no influence at court. Among them were two brothers,

Chöng Yakchong and Chöng Yagyong. Yagyong was

eventually to be recognised under his pen name, Tasan, as

the greatest thinker of the day.

They needed more books from China. One of the

group, 28-year-old Yi Sünghun, a relative of Yi Pyök and

brother-in-law of the Chöng brothers, had so far spent a

quiet life studying at home; but in 1784 his father was

sent as envoy on the annual winter embassy to China.

Sünghun was thus able to gain a place in the great caravan

that made its way over the northern mountains and

across the Manchurian plain to Beijing. Members of the

embassy always had plenty of time for sightseeing in the

capital, and Sünghun contrived to visit the French missionaries.

The Catholic mission was now in the hands of

the Lazarists (the Company of the Mission, also called

Vincentians) under the Portuguese Bishop Alexandre de


Gouvea. Sünghun contacted an ex-Jesuit, Fr Jean

Grammont, who had stayed in the city after the Jesuit

Order was suppressed by the Pope a year earlier. He gave

the young Korean some books, crucifixes and other

objects, and baptised him with the name of Peter before

he returned to Korea at the beginning of 1785.

Yi Pyök and his friends were fascinated by what they

now read. Within twelve months they set up a secret church

in Seoul at the house of Kim Pömu, one of the royal interpreters

of contemporary Chinese, who was a member of the

Hermitage group. (The site of his house is now part of the

Catholic cathedral compound in Seoul.) Peter Yi (Sünghun)

began baptising them, beginning with Francis Xavier

Kwön, a man of about 50. Yi Pyök became Peter, Kim

Pömu Thomas, and Chöng Yakchong Augustine. Since

Korea knew nothing of a seven-day week, they kept the 7th,

14th, 21st and 28th of each Chinese lunar month as Sunday.

By 1787 they realised a Church needed clergy.

Choosing Francis Xavier Kwön as bishop, they also chose

a few as priests and began to celebrate mass, confession

and confirmation. A few months later they began to have

doubts and suspended these ministries until they could

consult Bishop de Gouvea through a friend on the annual

Beijing embassy. The bishop’s reply came in 1790. They

had to dismantle their makeshift and invalid priesthood.

They must also renounce all Confucian rites. The bishop

promised to send them a real priest as soon as he could.



Persecution began when they were discovered at prayer

in Thomas Kim’s house. This socially aberrant behaviour

led to them all being questioned. The names of the gentlemen

were not published, but, as an interpreter, Thomas

was not a gentleman. He belonged to the so-called ‘middle’

or professional class that included doctors, architects,

artists, astronomers and others. He was questioned under

torture, found guilty of impiety to the state and banished

to Tanyang in the central mountains. On the way there he

died in the city of Wönju from the injuries he had

received during his interrogation. Today he is regarded as

the first martyr of the new Church.

A young man named Yun, whose home was in the far

south-west of the country and who was in Seoul successfully

working his way through the state examination

process, had joined the group at Thomas Kim’s house in

1784. He was baptised as Paul. In 1789 he joined the

embassy to Beijing and while he was there received the

sacrament of confirmation from Bishop de Gouvea. On

returning home he destroyed the ancestral tablets in the

family’s Confucian shrine, and when his mother died in

1791 he had her buried without Confucian rites. He and

an elder cousin named James Kwön were arrested for this

impiety that threatened the whole structure of the nation.


They were taken to the provincial capital at Chönju and

beheaded. At least eight other men were martyred in the

south-western regions before 1799. To become a

Christian was dangerous.

Defections were to be expected. Yi Pyök, Chöng

Yagyong, Francis Xavier Kwön and even the first baptised,

Peter Yi, were among those who withdrew, persuaded by

their families. Many Korean Catholics today are convinced

that some of them returned later, but we can be sure of

Peter Yi only. He was destined for martyrdom.

A woman in charge

Bishop de Gouvea did not forget his promise. He

despatched a priest in 1791, a Fr Wu; but Fr Wu was

unable to enter Korea and returned to Beijing, where he

died two years later. Then in winter 1794 Fr Zhou Wenmo,

baptised James, managed to reach Seoul. He celebrated

mass for the first time at Easter 1795. Alexander Hwang, a

brilliant young son-in-law of the Chöng family, served as

his interpreter and Korean tutor. As a Chinese in Korean

dress, Zhou would attract no attention, but when he spoke

his accent would betray him as a foreigner and the fact that

he was a priest would have led to his arrest. For the next

seven years he worked secretly among the 4,000 or so

Christians in the capital and surrounding countryside, making

his base in the house, or rather in the woodshed, of a

woman called Columba Kang. He made her a catechist.



The Korean word for catechist literally means ‘leader of

the congregation’ and catechists had a broad pastoral role

in teaching, organising, guiding and encouraging the

faithful. Columba became the most powerful member of

the Church, because she controlled access to Fr Zhou, and

she alone always knew where he was.

She had become a Christian in her home region in the

Naep’o district south of Seoul, near the west coast, one of

the first districts to be evangelised and one that produced

more martyrs than any other. Her husband divorced her

because of her Christian faith and she moved to Seoul

with her mother-in-law, daughter and stepson, all

Christians. She had independent means and partly

financed Fr Zhou’s journey from China. As catechist, she

recruited and trained women workers and generally oversaw

the Christian women. She converted two royal

princesses: Princess Song, a sister-in-law of the King, and

Princess Song’s daughter-in-law, Princess Sin. Astute and

capable, Columba kept Fr Zhou’s presence secret until

1801, when he was arrested. She and four of her helpers

were arrested too and fiercely tortured.

Fr Zhou was executed by the elaborate and sickening

ritual of ‘decapitation and display’. The two princesses

were convicted of having dealings with a foreign male,

adopting evil teachings and leaving the palace precincts.

They too were executed. Columba was beheaded at the

West Gate prison on 3 July. She has not yet been beatified,


because the documentation is incomplete, but the Korean

Church is now forwarding her cause, together with the

causes of 16 other martyrs. Even though more Korean

women than men have been canonised, the canonisation

of Columba Kang would bring more attention to the powerful

role of women in the story of Korea’s martyrs. In

periods of persecution women are always vital to the

strength of the Church: they train their sons and daughters

to be ready for martyrdom. Columba did more. She was

for seven crucial years the chief organiser of the Church.

Arrest and torture

The martyrs were treated as ordinary malefactors. They

were arrested by the police, who bound them with red

cord and took them to the Police Prison, often called in

English the Thieves’ Prison. This appalling place was an

unpaved yard – usually mud or dust – surrounded by sheds

with fronts of stout wooden bars, built against the walls.

Men and women were separated, but otherwise all prisoners

were packed in together, with no protection against

freezing cold in winter or scorching heat in summer.

Prisoners were allowed into the central open space during

daylight hours. At night they were forced into the sheds,

where they usually had no room to stretch or to lie down.

Once the doors were closed they were not opened until

dawn for any purpose at all. There was no sanitation.

Disease was rife. Prisoners were given a pitifully small



ration of boiled millet twice a day, though some were

able to buy or bribe extra food. Others ate foul straw and

lice. It was said that some Christians who bore tortures

with fortitude collapsed and apostatised under the strain

of prison conditions. Others often claimed that imprisonment

was harder to bear than torture.

After interrogators had compiled the evidence against

the prisoners under the police procedure, which might

take many days, those who were not released were sent to

the Criminal Court Prison. This was similar to the Police

Prison, though sometimes less crowded.

Interrogations were normally accompanied by torture.

Merciless beating was administered with a variety of paddles,

besoms, scourges, rods and wands, each inflicting its

own peculiar kind of pain. Savage beating caused bloodshed

and there are accounts of martyrs whose flesh fell off

in shreds, even of bones being exposed. Wooden blocks

and ropes were employed to bend leg and arm bones, even

to break them and dislocate joints. Pointed bamboo rods

might be stuck into the victim’s flesh. In another torture a

cord was passed under the victim’s thighs, crossed over

the front and then held taut by a man on either side who

applied a sawing motion that cut through the flesh like a

wire cheese-cutter, right through to the bone. Such tortures

would be repeated over many days, even weeks. Few

martyrs, if any, escaped being tortured again when they

were brought to the execution ground.




Some executions were carried out by strangling. This was

usually done in the Police Prison. The prisoner was placed

between two posts. The rope was passed round his neck, the

ends crossed at the front. Each end was then wound round

one of the posts and drawn tight by an executioner. Most of

the martyrs were, however, beheaded at an execution ground

outside the Little West Gate of the city. The condemned person

was tied by hands and hair to a large cross erected on a

bull-cart, and deliberately driven by a rocky and steep road,

calculated to make the journey as painful as possible. At the

site there was a block at which the victim was made to

kneel. The head was cut off with a huge sword. Several

blows were needed to finish the work. (During the decapitation

of St John Pak the executioner actually withdrew after

striking a few blows in order to whet his blade. Then he

returned and finished severing the head.)

When the authorities wanted to make the public more

widely aware of an execution, it was not performed at

one of the relatively small execution grounds, but at a

place where a far larger number of spectators could be

assembled. At Seoul that usually meant the broad sands

of the Han River, near the big flat island of Yöüido and

the army training camp, a mile or so further west than

the regular execution ground.

The procedure was called ‘displaying the head before

the military camp’. It was a military function, with one of


the commandants of the capital garrison in attendance at

the head of a hundred or so soldiers. A tall stake was

erected on the sands for each of the condemned. The man

was brought to the place, bound in a rough wooden chair,

carried by two soldiers with an escort. On arrival he was

stripped to his floppy white trousers, and his topknot

unravelled (Buddhist monks alone did not wear topknots).

An arrow was thrust downwards though the top

and lobe of each of his ears. His face was dashed with

water and lime, his hands tied in front of his chest. Two

poles were put under the rope binding his wrists and one

pole pushed under each armpit. Two men, one in front

and one behind, took the ends of these poles, lifted the

victim and carried him three times round the arena, to the

execration and insults of the crowd. A soldier attached a

banner to the top of the stake, inscribed with the crime in

Chinese, while another read out the sentence. The man

was then ordered to kneel back to the stake. His hair was

gathered in a bunch and tied to the stake to stretch his

neck so that his head was ready for severing. A small

troop of soldiers then performed a slow dance round the

stake, chanting and brandishing heavy sabres, with which

they struck his neck. Several blows were needed to sever

it. As the head rolled off, another soldier picked it up and

presented it on a tray to the presiding commandant. The

head was then displayed on a stake, as a warning to the

public, and left there for three days. It was forbidden that


anyone should touch the corpses. This ritual execution was

used for all foreign missionaries and for other Christians to

whom the authorities wanted to draw attention.

1801, The Year of the White Cock

Three hundred Christians were executed that year in an

outburst of violence that has gone down in history as the

‘Persecution of the White Cock Year’, because the

Koreans numbered their years according to the twelve

Chinese ‘zodiacal’ animals. Although there had been

martyrdoms nearly every year since 1791, there was no

policy of seeking out Christians until the Year of the

White Cock, 1801, when a change of policy followed the

accession to the throne in 1800 of a ten-year-old boy.

When a child became king, the senior Queen

Dowager acted as regent until he was of an age to rule

for himself. Since there were no other royal families in

Asia for the kings to marry into, they had to marry

women of their own country, which inevitably gave

political power to the families from which the queens

came. In 1800 the Queen Dowager was from a family in

the conservative tradition, which disapproved of

Christians because they were favoured by those who

followed the ‘practical learning’ vogue. Christianity was

already being called ‘Western teaching’. She ordered

that Catholics should be sought out, and executed if they

would not apostatise.



Things were made worse by the incident of the ‘silk

letter’. During the year Fr Zhou’s 25-year-old tutor,

Alexander Hwang, wrote a letter on a roll of silk to the

Bishop of Beijing, asking for the Pope to send military

assistance to the Korean Christians. The letter (now in

the Vatican) was intercepted, Hwang was executed,

and there was further reason for the government to

attack Christians.

Peter Yi – the man who had first brought Christian

books to the scholars at the Hermitage of Heavenly Truth

27 years before, but apostatised – returned to the faith and

was among those martyred in the Year of the White

Cock. So was Augustine Chöng.

Thirty-five years waiting for a priest

For its first ten years (1784-1794) the Korean Church had

no sacrament but baptism. Now again it had no priest.

This time it would have to wait for thirty-five years. Soon

the young king married a woman from the Andong Kim

family, which was sympathetic to the liberalising intellectuals.

Persecution eased, but the frontiers remained tightly

closed. There were probably 7,000 or 8,000 Christians

throughout the country, mostly in Seoul and the southwestern

provinces, drawn almost entirely from the gentry

and professional classes.

A natural leader appeared among them: Peter Yi’s

cousin, Paul Chöng Hasang, son of the martyred


Augustine Chöng. Paul’s brother also was martyred in

1801. His mother and sisters, though reduced to poverty,

brought him up as a devoted Christian and provided him

with an excellent home education. At the age of 20 he got a

post as a servant on the annual embassy to Beijing. He was

able to do this again on nine subsequent occasions, and

thus to maintain contact with Bishop de Gouvea. In spite of

his youth, he was appointed catechist and effectively

became the lay pastor of all the Christians in the country.

He persisted in efforts to get another priest from China,

and very nearly succeeded with a Fr Shen in 1826, but that

plan came to nothing. Korea still had to wait for a priest.

In 1823 Paul was introduced to a man four years his

senior named Yu, a remarkable scholar and famous bookcollector.

One day Yu had noticed that the paper used to

line a drawer in his furniture had scraps of philosophy

printed on it. Intrigued, he succeeded in stripping all the

fragments from the cabinetwork and found he had part of

a treatise on the true meaning of God, written by Mateo

Ricci, the greatest of the China Jesuits. In his attempts to

find someone who would explain more about Ricci’s

ideas, Yu met Paul Chöng. They became firm friends. Yu

held a senior post in the royal interpreters’ bureau and

frequently went on the annual mission to Beijing. Paul

found a place as a servant on the embassy in 1824 and

they both went to see Bishop de Gouvea. While they were

there, Yu was baptised, taking the name of Augustine.



Soon his authority in the Korean Church was less only

than that of Paul Chöng.

On one of these Beijing journeys Paul and Augustine

got to know a servant in his twenties named Cho, an

able man with an unusual spiritual history. For a while

he had been a Buddhist monk. Paul and Augustine

recognised his qualities and encouraged him to become

a Christian. He was baptised and confirmed in Beijing,

with the name of Charles. On return to Korea he became

a trusted helper, willing to undertake difficult and dangerous


The instruction of new Christians continued with zeal.

Every year saw more manuals and prayerbooks arriving

from China, including stories of saints. Saints’ names

were always given at baptism, in Chinese form and with a

seeming preference for the names of martyrs – Lucy,

Agnes, Sebastian, Protase and the like. Korean Christians

knew they might need the help and example of earlier

Christian martyrs.

In 1825 Paul and Augustine, with some others, sent an

earnest letter for help to Pope Leo XII. It was received

two years later, but nothing came of it until Pope Gregory

XVI, as part of his revival of world missions (he established

some 70 new dioceses and vicariates), created the

Korean Vicariate Apostolic in 1831. This was the first

step towards creating a Korean diocese.




The new vicariate was entrusted to the Paris Foreign

Missions Society, which had been working in east and

south-east Asia for two centuries. Barthélemy Bruguière,

a priest who had been two years in Bangkok, was

appointed Vicar Apostolic and ordained bishop. He set

out for Korea overland from Thailand in 1831. A young

priest called Jacques Chastan, recently arrived at Penang

in Malaya, was detailed to join him. Then Fr Pierre

Maubant, who was working in Sichuan (western China),

volunteered to join the Bishop as he passed through

Sichuan on his way to Korea.

Before any of them could get there, however, a

Chinese priest named Pacifico Yu, who was studying in

the Chinese College at Naples, volunteered to work in the

new vicariate. Paul Chöng, Augustine Yu and another of

the gentry class, Sebastian Nam, helped him to enter the

country in 1833. Sebastian lived with Fr Pacifico in Seoul

and took care of him.

Meanwhile Bishop Bruguière and Fr Maubant travelled

the length of China by separate routes. They met in

Manchuria and stayed in a tiny Christian village they

thought was a suitable place from which to attempt crossing

the Korean border. While waiting there the bishop fell

ill and died on 20 October 1835, broken by the exertions


of the journey. He was 43 years old. Fr Maubant, a strong

man in his twenties, went on alone. No European could

get through the frontier guardposts. The only way he

could enter Korea was to wait till the depth of winter and

struggle over the River Yalu when it was frozen. Helped

and guided by Paul Chöng, Fr Maubant crossed the ice at

night in January 1836.

He had to disguise himself as a mourner, because

mourners wore huge umbrella-like straw hats that hid

their faces and his brown beard would show he was not a

Korean. Travelling on foot in severe winter weather, usually

at night and in constant risk of discovery, he took 15

days to reach Seoul, where he was greeted by Fr Pacifico,

Sebastian Nam and others. Immediately he was swamped

with pastoral work, travelling among the scattered flock

in the two central provinces, often accompanied by

Charles Cho, he who had once been a Buddhist monk but

now became the Frenchman’s guide and interpreter.

People who had not been able to make their confessions

for thirty-five years could do so at last. Some made their

confessions in written Chinese, others had to use interpreters.

On Holy Saturday they celebrated the Vigil of

Easter in the cramped space of an ordinary Korean house

– a clandestine liturgy lasting five hours.

Fr Maubant’s most important achievement was the

selection of three teenage boys to become seminarians:

Francis-Xavier Kim, Andrew Kim and Thomas Ch’oe.


Accompanied by Fr Pacifico (who never returned), they

were smuggled out of Korea in 1836 and sent to the Paris

Society’s seminary at Macao. Paul Chöng, Augustine Yu

and Sebastian Nam saw them out of the country.

The other French priest, Jacques Chastan, had reached

the northern frontier in 1833. He was the same age as

Maubant. He had come by sea routes from Penang to

Macao, thence to Fujian, and finally by a fishermen’s boat

to Manchuria. Though he came within sight of the mountains

of Korea, he could find no way to cross the frontier.

He therefore withdrew and worked for about two years in

Shandong until he could get a message to Fr Maubant,

who was by then in Seoul. Fr Maubant arranged for

couriers to meet and help him; but they then had to wait

until the Yalu froze. Fr Chastan crossed the ice on the last

day of the year 1836, arriving in Seoul in January 1837.

During the summer both priests managed to give a few

weeks to language study, though they never dared stay

long in one place. They had to acclimatise themselves to

rough food, especially the standard meal of turnip pickled

in brine, served with rice and thin soup. Dried persimmon

fruit served them as iron rations, for they were constantly

travelling on foot, sleeping by day, saying mass and

doing pastoral work at night. Fr Maubant fell ill. Fr

Chastan rushed to see him in Seoul and gave him the last

rites. Miraculously, he recovered, and after three months

rest returned to the punishing work that had brought him



low. They had some 6,000 Christians to look after.

During 1837 they heard over 2,000 confessions and baptised

1,237 new Christians.

A pastoral bishop

Communications with Europe were very slow. At length

Laurent Imbert, a priest of the Paris Missions who had

been working in Sichuan, western China, since 1820, and

knew Pierre Maubant, was appointed bishop for Korea,

and ordained in May 1837. By November he had arrived

at Mukden (now Shenyang) in Manchuria. In mid-

December, he crossed the frozen Yalu and on New Year’s

Day 1838 he met Fr Maubant in Seoul. Fr Chastan was

away in the south, and did not meet the bishop until May.

Between the bishop’s arrival and November 1837,

2,000 were baptised. By the end of the year there were

9,000 Korean Christians. Imbert soon recognised that

Paul Chöng would make a good priest. He even went so

far as to start teaching him some Latin and a little theology.

In spite of the enormous difficulties, there were

gleams of hope.

The bishop’s life scarcely differed from that of his

priests. He rose at 2.30 a.m. At 3.30 he began baptising,

confessing, confirming, celebrating mass and caring for the

Christians, who rarely dared to be seen coming and going

in daylight. He suffered from hunger, because he often

could not eat until his pastoral work was finished for the


day. He went to sleep at 9 in the evening. ‘A life so hard’,

he wrote, ‘we hardly fear the sword-blow that must end it’.

1839, The Year of the Yellow Pig

The premonition was apt. A new king had come to the

throne in 1834, one whose in-laws were opposed to what

they called ‘western learning’ – meaning Christianity.

Christians had to be more careful, and by the time the

bishop arrived, persecution was intensifying. Peter Yi, a

catechist, had been imprisoned for four years but not executed.

He died on 25 November 1838 in the Criminal

Court Prison. His sister Agatha had been arrested in

February 1836 and was still held in prison. Pressure on

Christians increased during spring and summer 1839, the

Year of the Yellow Pig. A stern new decree against

Christianity was published in April.

We have records of some 140 martyrs during the

whole year, in Seoul and several southern provincial

cities, but this can be only part of the whole story.

Dispossessed Christians were taking refuge in the further

parts of the country. Already some of them were becoming

potters, because makers of earthenware traditionally

travelled from place to place in search of suitable clay,

setting up earth kilns in waste places and moving on

when they had exhausted local clay deposits. Itinerant

potters were to remain a feature of the Korean Catholic

Church for two hundred years.



In mid-May Protase Chöng, a man of 41, was arrested

and questioned by a kindly magistrate who persuaded

him to deny his faith. Protase went home, but could not

rest. A few days later he presented himself to the police,

demanding to be re-arrested. They refused to take him

seriously. He redoubled his demand. Finally they beat

him severely and threw him into prison, where, a few

hours later, he died during the night.

Three men and six women, 24 May 1839

On 24 May Agatha Yi was beheaded with eight others,

including the catechist Augustine Yi, on an execution

ground outside the Little West Gate of Seoul. The police

had found a silver mitre (whose workmanship astounded

them), a chasuble and a Latin prayerbook in the catechist’s

house. This discovery strengthened the government’s

determination to find the illegal foreign entrants.

Most of that day’s martyrs were of the gentry class.

Lucy Pak had rich relations in the royal palace. Damian

Nam, however, declared that he would be happy to enter

heaven with no other rank than ‘Damian Nam of the

Scapular Confraternity’. Anna Pak was devoted to the Five

Wounds of Christ. Agatha Kim was such a simple soul that

she could only repeat the names of Jesus and Mary. She

was baptised in prison. The others were Magdalene Kim,

Barbara Han and Peter Kwön, whose beatific smile was

said to have survived on his severed head.


A day or two later there were three deaths in the Police

Prison. One of these was 14-year-old Barbara Yi. The

others were Barbara Kim and Joseph Chang the herbalist.

One man and seven women, 20 July 1839

Executions continued throughout the summer. The

next canonised names are those of a man and seven

women beheaded on 20 July. The man was John Yi,

brother of Augustine Yi, martyred in May. John had

been baptised in Peking when he was there as a member

of the annual embassy.

The eldest woman was Rosa Kim, a convert widow in

her mid-fifties, who calmly murmured the names of

Jesus and Mary as she was arrested. Anna Kim was a

few years younger. Maria Wön was only 20. She had

been orphaned at 9 and was brought up as, Christian. She

was determined to stay a virgin. For that reason she

dressed her hair like a married woman’s and earned a

living by needlework. When neighbours delated her to

the police, she tried to run away but failed – she had

some difficulty in coming to terms with her situation.

Magdalene Yi had never seen Seoul before she left her

pagan father’s house in the countryside to find a

Christian family to live with in Seoul. She followed her

father to Seoul without his knowledge, and by leaving

bloodstained shreds of her clothing in the woods on the

way, successfully persuaded her family that a tiger had



killed her. Her father soon learned the truth, but forgave

her. Lucy Kim had a fine head of hair, which she sold in

prison in order to buy thin soup for other starving prisoners.

She had joined with Theresa Yi, Martha Kim and

Lucy Kim in a pact to surrender themselves to the

authorities and seek martyrdom. The judges gave them

extra tortures to punish their presumption.

Agnes Kim also died that day. She was the younger

sister of Columba Kim, a remarkable woman who was to

die a fortnight later.

The maker of straw shoes

On 3 September another man and five women were

beheaded outside the Little West Gate. The man was

John Pak, a maker of straw shoes who had often said he

needed to die a martyr in order to atone for his sins,

striking his shin with the mallet of his trade as he said it.

He had sent his wife away to stay with relations the night

before he was arrested.

The eldest of the women was Maria Pak, whose sister

Lucy had died on 24 May. Barbara Kwön and MariaYi,

wife of Damian Nam, had each made her house a masscentre

for Bishop Imbert. Barbara Yi had insisted on marrying

a Christian, and had put off a pagan suitor by staying

abed for three years pretending to be unable to walk.

She had then married a Christian, but he had died after

only two years. Her sister Magdalene and her aunt


Theresa had been beheaded on 20 July, her young niece,

also called Barbara Yi, had died in prison at the end of

May; and she left her mother Magdalene Hö in jail, waiting

for martyrdom.

Father of a priest

A week later, on 12 September, Francis Ch’oe, aged only

34, father of the lad Thomas who had been sent to the

seminary in Macao with two other boys in 1836, died in

prison. Francis had been baptised when young. He had a

fiery temperament, which he succeeded in controlling, so

that the impression he left on others was one of generosity

and gentleness. When he realised persecution was growing,

he hid his pious medals and other devotional objects,

but did nothing to hide his Christian books. He said the

images must be protected against sacrilege, but the books

were his manuals of strategy in the coming battle.

When police came to his home in the country to fetch

him, he entertained them overnight – and gave new

clothes to one of them whose clothes were threadbare.

Then he persuaded a group of nearly forty Christians to

go to prison with him, saying it would be better to die by

the sword in Seoul than to starve in the country – for there

was a famine that year. Only three of the forty stayed to

the end. When asked to renounce his Christian faith,

Francis replied that if asked to live without eating, he

would try, though it would be very difficult; but it was



impossible for him to pretend not to believe in God. At one

point he was asked to put on the bishop’s vestments. He

refused, and they were put on another prisoner. Francis

straightway prostrated himself before the man. When

asked whom he was reverencing, he replied, ‘The crucifix’.

The questioner raised his hand to strike Francis; then

thought better of it.

The officers goaded a repulsive thief to insult and

pester him, even to opening and hurting the sores from

his beatings. Francis bore everything with such resignation

that the thief exclaimed, ‘He really is a Christian.

You other Christians! Do as he does!’

On 11 September he was beaten with 50 blows – having

been beaten every second day since the beginning of

August. The next day he died in prison, disappointed that

God had not allowed him to shed his blood, but accepting

the Divine Will.

The good shepherd gives up his life for the sheep

So many of his flock were being imprisoned, tortured and

executed that Bishop Imbert wondered whether he and

the two priests should try to leave the country, in order to

save the laity. The three Frenchmen met near Suwön, but,

deciding that any plan to leave Korea would be impracticable,

they separated on 3 July and went into hiding.

On 10 August a new Christian named Andrew Chöng

came to the bishop in the middle of the night, saying a


messenger had come from Seoul, where the government

had changed its mind and would now treat him with due

honour. Imbert realised at once that his hiding place had

been betrayed. He wrote straightway to his two priests,

then went to meet the ‘messenger’ in a nearby village.

The messenger turned out to be an apostate called Kim

Yösang. The bishop went with him to Seoul. There he

was soon bound with the red cord of arrest, and taken for

questioning with the usual tortures. He had persuaded the

police to allow Andrew Chöng return to his own home.

Anxious now to find the two priests, the police

deceived two more Christians, one of whom went along

with the ruse so far as to meet the bishop, from whom he

was able to take a note for Fr Maubant and Fr Chastan,

written in Latin. The note said: ‘In extreme circumstances

the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep, so if you

have not already left, come with the officer Son Kyejong,

but do not let any of the Christians follow you. Imbert,

Bishop of Capsa.’ (Capsa was his titular see, because

Korea was not yet a diocese.)

The letter soon reached Fr Maubant, who sent it on to

Fr Chastan and at the same time wrote to Son, telling

him that Fr Chastan was away, but they would both

arrive in about ten days. Jacques Chastan received the

message on 1 September. He at once sat down and wrote

a farewell letter to his family in France, giving thanks to

God for calling him to be a martyr. When the two met,



near the town of Hongju, they both wrote further letters

on 6 September, to the Maubant family, to the Roman

Propaganda and to the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

They reported to Cardinal Fransoni of the Propaganda

that the mission had about 10,000 Christians. They also

reported 1,200 baptisms, 2,500 confirmations, 4,500 confessions,

4,000 communions, 150 marriages, 60 anointings

of the dying, and 600 catechumens under instruction.

For three men this was a huge accomplishment,

especially when the necessary travelling and the language

difficulties are taken into account. They both then

wrote letters to their Christians, exhorting them particularly

to ensure that Christians married Christians.

From Hongju they were taken on ponies to Seoul. On

12 September they were in Seoul with their bishop, all

three being interrogated by the Criminal Court. They were

beaten on the 15th and 16th and again on the 19th. They

were finally sentenced late on the 21st, and executed on

the sands by the Han that evening. The whole ritual of

military decapitation with display of the heads was gone

through. When Fr Chastan received the first sword blow it

fell on his shoulder and he started up, but immediately fell

back on his knees. Otherwise they remained still till they

died. Not until three weeks later were Christians able to

disinter the three bodies surreptitiously and take them

away. Many decades later they were enshrined in the crypt

of Seoul cathedral.


Late in the afternoon of the next day Paul Chöng and

his fellow-worker Augustine Yu were beheaded outside

the Little West Gate.

So the leadership of the infant Church was destroyed

in two days. Bishop Imbert, realising that this would happen,

had committed the Church to the care Charles Hyön,

a gifted catechist of the professional class.

Strong women

Four days after Paul and Augustine were killed, nine

other Christians were martyred outside the Little West

Gate on 26 September. The six women among them had

been under arrest for many weeks – Magdalene Pak for

six months. She and Agatha Chön had connections with

the palace, where she had lived and worked. Perpetua

Hong had been in prison for over four months, Columba

Kim since June and Julietta Kim since July. Magdalene

Hö was the mother of Barbara Yi and Magdalene Yi, who

had been beheaded on 20 July and 2 September.

The life of women, especially those of the gentry class,

was severely circumscribed. They rarely travelled, indeed

rarely left the house and were not allowed in the streets in

daylight. Most of them could not read Chinese characters.

They were conventionally regarded as unintelligent. The

truth was very different. In spite of their manner of life,

women were often of strong character, perceptive, and

influential in the lives of the men.



Their steadfastness is illustrated by their response to torture.

It was allied to a meekness and dignity that were in

themselves virtues for Confucians too. Most of these

women had been looking forward to martyrdom, some for

many years. Perpetua Hong had long said she wanted ‘to

wear the red dress (of martyrdom)’. When they came to

interrogation they surprised the questioners by the cogency

of their arguments for believing in God and Christ.

Columba Kim made a great impression by her poise

and lack of fear. She had been imprisoned with her sister

Agnes, who had been beheaded three weeks earlier. They

were aged 26 and 23. Their questioners were so exasperated

by their constancy that the women had been stripped

of all their clothing and put into a men’s section of the

Police Prison, with a suggestion that the ruffians already

there were welcome to treat the women as they liked.

After two days they were given back their clothes and

returned, untouched, to the women’s prison. When they

were next under torture Columba complained about this

incident with calm dignity. She said she would not complain

about treatment that was legal, but she and her sister

had been treated illegally. The court was appalled and

sent a report to higher authority. Some of the prison staff

were punished with severe bastinado.

Columba could be satirical too, as she was in describing

the nonsense involved in believing that the souls of the dead

would come and enjoy the meal prepared for them in the


Confucian ancestral sacrifice ritual. She won admiration for

her intelligence and courage, but these virtues could not

spare her; nor would she have wished that they might.

Also in September another Lucy Kim, 70 years old and

generally known as ‘the hunchback’, died in prison.

Three male martyrs and three more women

On 26 September three more men were executed with

the six women: Charles Cho, Sebastian Nam and

Ignatius Kim. They represented the second level of

leadership in the Church

Charles Cho and Sebastian Nam had been among those

who went on the embassies to Beijing. Charles, who went

every year, had helped to arrange for the foreign priests to

enter Korea and had acted as guide for Maubant in his

pastoral journeys. On his return from China at the beginning

of 1839, he had received a vision of Christ with St

Peter and St Paul, which he had interpreted as a promise

of martyrdom. When he was taken from the cross on the

cart that took him to the execution ground, Charles Cho

noticed some of his relations, not Christians, present there

in great distress. He gave them an affectionate smile.

Sebastian Nam had been Fr Pacifico’s helper and was

an experienced leader in the Church. He also was taken

through the treachery of a Christian.

Ignatius Kim, whose own father had been martyred in

1814, was father of the boy Andrew Kim who had gone



to Macao in 1836 to study for the priesthood. Ignatius

broke under torture, but was still condemned to punishment

for having let his son go abroad. When he was

returned to prison, the others encouraged him to reassert

his faith. This he did three times, under increased torture;

and so died a martyr.

On the last night of the month two more women died

in prison, both of them sick with disease contracted from

the conditions under which they were detained: 57-yearold

Catherine Yi and her 33-year-old daughter Magdalene

Cho. Catherine had been reduced to poverty by her persistence

in the faith and earned a meagre living as a seamstress.

She realised her ambition of dying a virgin.

Boy martyr

Augustine Yu’s family, of whom only two had accepted

their father’s faith, was outlawed and banished from the

capital. Before then, however, his younger son Peter, aged

13, had become the youngest of the martyrs who would be

canonised 150 years later. This remarkable boy had begun

to hope for martyrdom long before. After his father was

arrested he had gone to the police early in August and

urged them to arrest him. They did so and proceeded to

question him with torture on 14 occasions. At least once he

picked up shreds of his flesh from the ground and threw

them defiantly before the judges. To many of the onlookers

it seemed that he was happy throughout the five horrific


weeks, hoping to be beheaded. In the event he was strangled

in the prison on 31 October.

Paul’s mother

Paul Chöng’s mother, Cecilia Yu, was 79 years old. The

police arrested her on 19 July and subjected her, old as

she was, to 230 strokes of the wand in her first 5 interrogations.

She wanted to join her beloved Paul in martyrdom,

but because of her age the authorities would not

behead her. She resigned herself to dying in prison, and

lingered on until she fell asleep on 23 November, quietly

murmuring the names of Jesus and Mary. Her daughter

Elisabeth was still alive in prison for her faith.

Winter martyrs

On the day Cecilia died, 23 November 1839, the State

council issued an even stronger edict against Christianity.

On 29 December, seven more martyrs were killed.

Benedicta Hyön was sister to Charles Hyön, the catechist

who had become leader of the new generation. Their

father had died for the faith in 1801. Magdalene Yi was

an impoverished lady of the gentry class who had

watched her mother die in prison. Peter Ch’oe, father-inlaw

of Charles Cho, was a man of the professional class

who after a dissolute youth had become a Christian and

tamed his wild ways. Magdalene Han was married to a

distinguished scholar who had been baptised in articulo



mortis. Cecilia Yu’s daughter and Paul Chöng’s sister,

Elisabeth Chöng, had always lived in poverty and was

accustomed to earn her pittance by needlework and weaving.

She was the fourth member of her family to be executed.

Bishop Imbert declared she should have been made

a catechist. As she left the prison on her way to execution,

she exhorted those she left behind to pray always for

the poor and for the suffering. Barbara Cho was the wife

of Sebastian Nam, who had died among those killed on

26 September. She was also cousin of Paul Chöng and

had kept house for Fr Pacifico. Barbara Ko had been a

toddler when her father had been martyred in 1801. She

left her husband Augustine Pak in prison, awaiting his

inevitable death before long.


January 1840 saw four martyrs strangled in the Police Prison.

On the 9th the two victims were women. Theresa Kim

was an aunt of the boy Andrew Kim who had gone to

Macao to study for the priesthood four years earlier. Her

husband Joseph Son had died in prison for the faith in

1824 in the country town of Haemi. She had provided a

home for Fr Pacifico till he went with the three boys to

China. Later she joined Bishop Imbert’s household. She

was strangled after nearly six months’ imprisonment.

Agatha Yi, who died the same day aged only 17, had

been imprisoned in April, with her father Augustine


(beheaded in April) and her mother Barbara Kwön

(beheaded in September).

Later the same month, the same brutal death put an

end to the sufferings of two more men. The first was

35-year-old Andrew Chöng, the naive convert who had

fallen into the trap set by the apostate Kim Yösang to

capture Bishop Imbert. Andrew had been duped again

into betraying some new converts; but he woke to the

truth when Kim tried to persuade him to betray Fr

Maubant and Fr Chastan. In his distress at that time

Andrew spoke of giving himself up to martyrdom. The

priests dissuaded him; but he was soon caught and subjected

to rigorous tortures. Five months later he was

strangled on 23 January 1840.

His companion in martyrdom, Stephen Min, was killed

a week later. He was nearly 60, a childless widower,

reduced to staying in other peoples’ houses, earning a living

by hand-copying books. His sufferings climaxed in

40 strokes of the paddle, at every one of which he cried

‘A rascal fit only to die!’ Yet in those last weeks of misery

this rather solemn soul managed to persuade two

apostates to repent: Dominic Yi and Cosmas Yö – both of

whom were executed before Stephen himself.

Five men and five women

Ten martyrs died on 31 January and 1 February 1840 –

five men and five women.



Paul Hö was a soldier of the city garrison. At first he

broke down under the torture, but soon he recovered his

courage and was subjected to depraved tests by the

guards, who made him eat and drink filth to prove his

fidelity to Christ. He died while being tortured by beating

with the heavy paddle.

The other nine were beheaded at Tang-Kogae, another

place of execution outside the western walls of the city.

The five women were all at least acquaintances, if not

friends. Maria Yi was sister of Magdalene Yi, beheaded

with six others on 29 December. Magdalene Son was the

wife of Peter Ch’oe, who had also been martyred on that

December day. Barbara Ch’oe was their daughter, whose

husband Charles Cho had been martyred in September.

Magdalene was another seamstress, and both she and her

daughter each arrived in prison with a tiny daughter. Both

children were sent away into the care of others.

The fourth woman, Agatha Kwön, was a stranger case.

She died at the age of 21 and was the daughter of

Magalene Han, who had been beheaded outside the Little

West Gate at the end of December. Magdalene’s husband

had been converted on his deathbed. They had arranged

for Agatha to be married at the age of 12. Marriage at this

age was more common than not, and the bride and groom

were not expected to cohabit until some years later. This

bridegroom’s family, however, was too poor even to take

Agatha to live in their house and she was confided to his


relations. When Fr Pacifico arrived in Korea she entered

service in his household. He became very fond of her,

and approved her wish to break off her marriage and live

as a virgin. Their relationship became too close and gave

cause for scandal. Fr Maubant talked to her and she

became overwhelmed with penitence, claiming that only

martyrdom would expiate her sins. Kim Yösang, who had

betrayed Bishop Imbert, sank further into depravity by

trying to persuade her to go off with him, but she was

steadfast. She entered the prison with some happiness.

The guards were sorry for Agatha and set her free, but

she soon returned voluntarily to the prison. Her martyrdom

was a singular triumph at the close of a life of frailty

and great trials.

The fifth woman was Agatha Yi. She had been married

to a eunuch. Bishop Imbert advised that she should leave

him, but her mother was too poor to support her. She

moved in with Agatha Kwön and was arrested with her.

Of the four men, two were brothers aged 39 and 42:

Peter and Paul Hong from Sösan district in the central

province, grandsons and nephews of two martyrs of 1801.

Both were catechists and had helped shelter Fr Maubant

and Fr Chastan in spring and summer 1839. The dastardly

Kim Yösang fingered them as he did the bishop and the

two priests.

Augustine Pak was 48, a member of the professional

class, cultured and kind, but very poor. His wife Barbara



Ko, whose own father had been martyred in 1801, had

been beheaded in November. Augustine had been one of

the group that arranged for the three Frenchmen to enter

the country and Bishop Imbert had made him a catechist.

It is recorded that he was insulted and tortured even by

other prisoners. The torturers left him unable to use either

arms or legs.

The last of the group was John Yi, 31 years old. He was

of the gentry class, a widower without children. He had

accompanied Fr Maubant on pastoral journeys. During

1839 he had been at pains to offer relief to imprisoned

Christians; and he had led the group that secretly removed

the bodies of the three French martyrs from the Han River

sands at the end of September. Six days before he died he

wrote a lengthy letter of advice to his fellow-Christians, trying

to strengthen their faith. He advised them particularly to

practise the Stations of the Cross frequently and to have

recourse to the prayers of the Ever-virgin Mary.

Barbara Ch’oe and Paul Hong could not be executed

with the others, because no one could be beheaded on the

same day as a close relation. Paul had a brother, and

Barbara her mother, among the condemned. Seven of the

group were therefore beheaded on 31 January, but these

two and John Yi on 1 February.

The list of those canonised for the persecution of the

Year of the Yellow Pig ends with Antony Kim strangled

on 29 April 1841, after 15 months in prison.



Rebellions and poor harvests

For the next six years there were few martyrdoms. The

royal in-laws were Kims again, favourable to modern

learning, and the police stopped searching out Christians.

The Church however could not lower its guard. Most

Christians were hiding in the countryside, and all had

been impoverished. Few remained who belonged to the

gentry. Not only had they lost all their priests; they had

lost their Korean leaders too. Three men remained who

could give some leadership, but they were less gifted than

Paul Chöng and his companions: Fr Chastan’s servant,

Charles Hyön; Fr Maubant’s servant, Peter Chöng; and

Thomas Yi, a grandson of the very first Korean to be baptised

in Beijing, Peter Yi, martyred in 1801.

The state of the whole country was now far from being

as prosperous as it had been when Peter Yi collected

Christian books in Beijing for the scholars of the

Hermitage of Heavenly Truth. Government by the royal

in-laws had been corrupt; the kings had lacked charisma;

there had been too many poor harvests; and a succession

of uprisings, led by illegitimate sons and other malcontents,

showed the general malaise of the nation.

The Paris Foreign Missions Society and the Office of

Propaganda in Rome appointed John Joseph Ferréol as

Vicar Apostolic for Korea. He arrived in Manchuria by

sea and reached Shenyang (then called Mukden) in 1840.

He was unable to get further for four years. Had Paul


Chöng still been alive, things might have been different.

Christians were still able from time to time to get on the

embassies from Seoul to Beijing, but the network had been

broken. Ferréol withdrew beyond the Mongolian border

and stayed with the little Christian community that had

sheltered Bishop Bruguière five years earlier. Not until

1842 was contact established with Charles Hyön. The way

would soon be open. The route would again be over the

frozen Yalu River, in the coldest, darkest part of the year.




By this time the three boys who had been sent to the Paris

Missions seminary in Macao should have finished their

studies there. Francis-Xavier, alas, had died. The other

two had fared well, and it was judged expedient to think

of their return. They were to be put as interpreters on two

French naval vessels that were planning to visit Korean

waters, with the intention of complaining about the execution

of the three French nationals in 1839. The vessels

were under the command of Admiral Cécille – a name

that was destined to bring more sorrow than help.

Andrew Kim was to accompany two French priests, one

for Manchuria and one for Korea. The plan had to be

changed. Andrew and the two priests eventually went to

Manchuria in a Chinese junk, arriving there at the end of

October 1842. Andrew and the priest for Korea, Fr

Maistre, began planning to enter Korea disguised as beggars,

but the Vicar Apostolic of Manchuria quashed the

plan as unworkable.

Andrew then planned to go alone. At the end of the

year he got himself to a place on the road to Beijing where

he was likely to meet the winter embassy as it passed

through from Seoul. There were frustrating delays, but he

finally succeeded and met a Christian Korean named

Francis Kim, from whom he learned how the persecution


had raged, and that there was now a lull. On 24 January

1843 Korean Christians in the embassy said Fr Ferréol

should not attempt to cross the border. Andrew had hairraising

adventures, suffering much from cold and hunger;

but he had to return to his superior. Again they waited for

many months. There was some consolation when, on the

last day of 1843, the Vicar Apostolic of Manchuria

ordained Fr Ferréol as third Vicar Apostolic of Korea. On

17 October 1844 Andrew was ordained to the diaconate.

A fortnight later the bishop, accompanied by Andrew,

reached the Korean border again. They met Francis Kim

as the embassy went through. Francis was insistent that

no foreign missionary should attempt the crossing, but

Andrew went on alone and succeeded in crossing the

frozen river. He left a vivid account in Latin of his journey,

through gullies and alleys, through snow-bound

mountains and over frozen streams, constantly aware that

he might be discovered and questioned. If he were

caught, it would be impossible to hide for long the fact

that that he had illegally left and re-entered the country.

At P’yöngyang he met Charles Hyön and Thomas Yi,

and his journey under their guidance to Seoul was a little

easier. Andrew had brought some money with him

(explaining how he came by it would have been hard if he

had been arrested on the way) and he soon bought a

house in Seoul. He could now move about fairly easily,

and Bishop Ferréol instructed him to investigate sea routes


in and out of Korea. He bought a wretched little boat and

gathered an ad hoc crew of inexperienced sailors. In this

craft he and Charles Hyön set sail across the Yellow Sea,

intending to reach Shanghai. A tremendous storm arose.

They cut their masts and entrusted their souls to God.

Although many ships were lost in the Yellow Sea during

that storm, this damaged craft stayed afloat long enough

for them to be rescued by a Cantonese ship that took them

in tow… Even so they encountered pirates. When they discharged

their firearms, the pirates fled.

Eventually they were towed into the anchorage at

Wusung, the port of Shanghai, which was then in the

first stages of becoming an international trading centre,

full of sailing vessels from European nations. The

strange Korean boat and the costume of the Koreans

caused a sensation. Andrew recognised a British ship.

Knowing about the British from his years in Macao,

Hong Kong’s neighbour , he cal led out : ‘ I am a

Korean. I ask your protection!’ The British sailors

responded, and guided him to the Chinese authorities,

who suggested he return to Korea by land. Andrew

was having nothing to do with that idea, which would

have defeated his purpose. With the help of the British

officers he made his way into Shanghai and saw the

British consul, who had been forewarned by Bishop

Ferréol, and found a place for him to stay with a

Christian family.



A few weeks later Bishop Ferréol himself arrived in

Shanghai, accompanied by Fr Antoine Daveluy, who

was also destined for Korea. On 17 August 1845, the

Vicar Apostolic of Jiangnan – the local bishop – ordained

Andrew priest.

The bishop, Fr Daveluy and Fr Kim prepared to sail

for Korea. They arrived at Kanggyöng on the west coast

on 12 October. A particular joy for Andrew was being

able to see his mother, Ursula, again. As we have seen,

his father Ignatius had been beheaded in 1839. Soon the

two bishops and Andrew were established in Seoul,

where they were now fairly safe so long as they did nothing

to attract attention. The bishop asked Andrew to continue

working at the idea of entering and leaving Korea

by sea. In the spring Andrew went to the west coast of

Hwanghae province, to a group of islands which was

well known as a haunt of Chinese fishermen at that season.

He was apprehended there by the Korean authorities

in July. They took him to their provincial capital at

Haeju before they put the red cord of arrest on him and

took him to Seoul.

His trial took a long time. He made a good impression

on his judges, who admired his manners and his education.

The records hint that they had some hope of dealing

leniently with him, but Admiral Cécille now arrived off

the coast, and sent peremptory messages to the Korean

government about the execution of the three Frenchmen


in 1839. Cécille’s behaviour left no hope of pardon for

Andrew, against whom the most serious charge was his

treasonous contacts with Europeans. He was condemned

to death. The execution place was prepared on

the sands of the Han, where Bishop Imbert and his two

priests had been slain seven years earlier. Here Andrew

was brought on 16 September 1846, stripped and prepared

for decapitation. He made a brief speech, declaring

he had contacted foreigners for God’s sake only,

and that he was dying for God. Then he charged all

those present to enter eternal life with him. When all

was ready he asked the soldiers if he was correctly

placed for beheading. One them adjusted the tilt of his

head. The young priest did not move again. His head

fell at the eighth stroke.

Fearing what might happen to the body, the authorities

had it dressed in a purple coat, wrapped in reed mats

and buried at once, together with the head, there on the

execution ground. Christians retrieved the relics forty

days later.

St Andrew is the best-loved of the Korean martyrs. Not

only was he the first Korean priest, only 25 years old and

not yet a year in the priesthood, he was an impressive and

loveable young man. Bishop Ferréol said he loved him like

a son. His judges acknowledged his fine character, and

pitied him for the hard life that had been his lot. It is right

that his name should stand at the head of the canonised.



Eight friends

Three days later Charles Hyön, the catechist to whom

Bishop Imbert had committed the Church, was beheaded

with the gruesome ceremonies of military display on the

sands of the Han. His father, sister, wife and son had

already been martyred. He would have surrendered himself

to martyrdom in 1838, had not the Bishop and the

two French priests dissuaded him. Since then he had led

the Church bravely. He had punctiliously collected

accounts of all the martyrs, amassing the basis of documentation

that would later be used for the canonisation

process. He had been in prison since 16 July, when he

was arrested with four women who happened to be in his

house at the time of the police visit.

The four women were beheaded outside the Little

West Gate the day after Charles was executed on the

sands. Susanna U was a widow of the gentry class. She

was arrested and might have been executed in 1828, but

was released because she was then pregnant. She was

however tortured, despite the unborn child. She had a

friend with her now, Teresa Kim, a widow who worked

as a household servant in Fr Andrew’s household. With

them were another widow, Agatha Yi, who had run away

from home so that she could live as a Christian, and had

been baptised by Fr Pacifico; and Catherine Chöng.

Catherine had been violently beaten by her master when

she would not take part in pagan sacrifices. She ran away

from home and joined the women in Fr Andrew’s house.

She still bore the marks of her beating.

Three men were killed with them. Joseph Im had

been the only non-Christian in his own household, not

well educated, but earning his living as a merchant.

One of his sons had gone with Fr Andrew to contact the

Chinese fishermen off the west coast in June. On learning

that they had been apprehended, Joseph, who had

joined the police in the hope of helping Christians,

went to Haeju to claim his son. Unsurprisingly, he was

himself arrested and taken to Seoul. He was tortured

with particular cruelty, being told at one time that if he

made the slightest sound it would be interpreted as

apostasy. Fr Andrew’s charm worked on him. He suddenly

declared his faith and became the second of the

martyrs to be baptised in prison. (The first was Agatha

Kim in 1838.)

Peter Nam, a member of the capital garrison, was

arrested in July. Although a Christian by 1839, he had

escaped capture, and shortly afterwards fell into sinful

ways. After a while he reformed himself and undertook

severe penances, such as living in an unheated room

throughout the winter. He said only martyrdom could

obliterate his guilt. In prison he carefully surrendered his

military tally as part of his welcome for martyrdom. He

asked his pagan brothers not to visit him in prison, lest

they should break his determination to die.



The last of the group was Laurence Han, member of

the gentry with a rather solemn mien, but an acknowledged

gift of contemplative prayer. Like many of the

martyrs, he thought Christian belief involved charity of

something like Franciscan prodigality. He often gave

away his clothes. Bishop Imbert had appointed him catechist.

Arrested at the end of August, he was tortured with

particular ingenuity, having his feet cut and crushed with

pottery shards. In spite of this, he refused to be taken to

Seoul on a pony, even though it was impossible for him

to wear shoes. As a result he walked barefoot on his

wounded feet for more than 50 kilometres.

All seven were beaten to death in prison. Some of

them lasted a long time under the blows. When this happened

it was customary for the executioners to ease their

own labours by strangling the victim. This happened to

Peter Nam. It was said that a strange light appeared over

his body during the night of his death. The prison guards

were so moved by this that they did not throw his body

out in the usual way, but gave it careful burial.

A twenty-year lull

After autumn 1846 there was a sudden lull in the execution

of Christians. This must have been because of a

change of heart in the palace. The queen’s family was

now politically less inclined to hate Christians. Then in

1849 the king died suddenly at the age of 22, leaving no


son to succeed him. The queen who had come to the fore

after the Year of the White Cock was now the senior

dowager. She made one of the most surprising appointments

of the dynasty. She called in from the island of

Kanghwa an uneducated 18-year-old farmer, an outrigger

of the royal clan, whose princely ancestors had been

exiled there 150 years earlier. Since he was utterly unprepared

for the throne, the dowager’s family again took

over the reins of government. Things became easier for

Christians. The new king was grandson of the princess

Song who had been martyred in 1801, and may have had

some latent sympathy for Christianity.

Bishop Ferréol worked secretly in Seoul for eight

years. In 1853 he fell ill and died, worn out by heavy

work and harsh conditions. The man appointed to succeed

him was Siméon Berneux. Berneux had arrived in

the Orient in 1840, when for a few weeks in Macao he

was given care of the two Korean students, the future

martyr Andrew Kim and Thomas Ch’oe. Still in his

twenties he was sent to work in Vietnam, where he

spent two years in prison for his faith. His superiors

transferred him against his will to Manchuria, where he

was to become bishop as Pro-Vicar-Apostolic in 1854,

but hardly had he been ordained, when he was appointed

to Korea. It took nearly two years for him to reach

Seoul. He arrived by a junk from the Yellow Sea in

January 1856.



He had his own house, but a gentleman and his family

also lived in it, leaving the bishop just one room, in which

he slept, ate his two daily meals and said mass. He could

never go out into the courtyard during the day because

women hawkers and beggars might come in at any time

and his red beard would have given him away as a foreigner.

He dared not open a window, even in summer, and

could never raise his voice above a whisper. Twice a year

he visited his flock, who were mostly very poor and had

tiny houses, inside which it was impossible for him to

stand upright, even for mass. He would arrive at a house

before daybreak and recite the breviary while the catechist

listed those coming for the sacraments. He would have

breakfast, hear confessions and give instruction all day

long. He lay down at night dead tired. Gentlewomen

would come during the night, disguised as poor women,

make their confessions, hear mass at 3 in the morning and

get back home before daylight, for they had to keep their

faith secret from heir husbands. Baptisms, confirmations

and occasionally unction followed the mass. Then he hurried

to the next congregation in another house, arriving

there before dawn. This pattern was repeated daily for two

months every spring and autumn.

1866, The Year of the Red Horse

In 1857 Fr Daveluy was ordained coadjutor bishop. The

church that had begun as a group of gentry was now largely


a Church of the poor, but some gentlemen and their families

still belonged. One of these was John Nam, who was a

tutor to the royal household. When the ploughboy king

died leaving no son in 1863, the senior queen dowager of

the day made another bizarre decision. She appointed as

king an 11-year-old boy, whose father was still alive.

There were two precedents for this, however, and the protocol

was for the king’s father to be known as the ‘Great

Prince of the Palace’. He naturally functioned as regent, a

man who was famous for his beautiful ink drawings of

orchids, but proved to be an unpredictable schemer.

Koreans were just becoming aware of the interest

being taken in them by the western powers. European

ships were appearing in Korean waters. Russia was particularly

worrying. Surprisingly, there were three

Christian women in the palace: the Great Prince’s wife,

his eldest daughter, and the boy king’s nanny. These three

discussed the situation with John Nam, who eventually

suggested to the Great Prince that he might use Bishop

Berneux as a contact with the French and British governments

for an alliance against Russia. It seems that the

Prince asked to meet Berneux, but there were mistakes in

protocol when letters were drafted. There was a delay of

ten months, perhaps partly because the missionaries were

hard to contact. The Great Prince was angry and called

the matter off. He also had political debts to the senior

Queen Dowager’s family, which was anti-Christian. He



asked to meet the two bishops. They were in Seoul by the

end of January 1866, the Year of the Red Horse; but they

already knew that the Prince’s intention now was to arrest

them. Bishop Berneux was arrested on 23 February. The

gory processes that led to execution were gone through

again on the Han River sands on 6 March. The bishop

was 52. With him were executed three French priests, all

in their twenties: Juste de Bretennieres, Pierre Dorie and

Louis Beaulieu. John Nam was executed outside the

Little West Gate the same day. Three days later John

Chön, a flour merchant, and Peter Ch’oe, both of whom

had edited and published Christian books, were beheaded

in the same place.

Another two days later, two Korean laymen were martyred

on the Han River sands with full military ceremonial

and display of their heads. Mark Chöng the catechist was

71. He had been converted after seeing some of the martyrs

of 1839 meet their deaths. Bishop Ferréol made him

chief catechist of Seoul. Alexius U was only 21. He was

something of a prodigy, passing the national examinations

in his middle teens. He had been an ardent missionary in

Hwanghae-do, the Yellow Sea Province just north of

Seoul, and by the age of 18 had brought 100 converts to

Seoul. Arrested in 1865, he had apostatised under torture,

but had returned to the Church and was arrested in the

house of John Chön.




Bishop Daveluy and two more French priests, Luc Huin

and Pierre Aumaitre, whom he had asked to surrender in

the same way that Laurent Imbert had asked Frs Maubant

and Chastan, were to have been executed in the same

place. The palace soothsayers objected that too much

blood was being shed in Seoul and this would have a bad

effect on the king’s wedding, which was to happen that

spring. Bishop Daveluy and the priests had been arrested

with him in the district 150 miles south of Seoul where Fr

Andrew Kim and so many earlier martyrs had been bred,

were taken back there for execution. Decapitation with

display of the heads was performed at Poryöng on Good

Friday, 30 March 1866. Thus Bishop Daveluy, who

became the 5th Vicar Apostolic for Korea when Bishop

Berneux died, held that office for only 22 days. With him

also were martyred Luke Hwang, a catechist who had

helped him with translation work, and another catechist,

Joseph Chang.

Ten other names appear among the canonised for the

Year of the Red Horse. Catechist Peter Yu was beaten to

death in P’yöngyang on 17 February. On the day of

Bishop Daveluy’s death a farmer named Thomas Son was

strangled at Kongju. Seven men were beheaded in Chönju,

the south-western provincial capital, on 13 December:


Bartholomew Chöng, of the gentry class; farmers Peter

Cho and 20-year-old Peter Chöng; catechists Peter Son

and 20-year-old Peter Han; and Peter Yi. Peter Cho’s 18-

year-old son, Joseph Cho, was beaten to death the day

before. Another catechist, John Yi, was beheaded in the

south-eastern city of Taegu on 21 January 1867.

These names from the 1860s are woefully unrepresentative.

The choice of those canonised in 1984 depended on

the collection of evidence of the standard required for the

canonical process. Not only are there no women among

them, though large numbers of housewives and mothers

were killed, but these saints of the Year of the Red Horse

form only a tiny selection from what are thought to be

have been about 8,000 martyrs who died between 1866

and 1886. Few Churches can muster such a roll.

Persecution continued for several years. Families that

suffered in 1801 and 1839 continued to suffer until the

early 1870s. Among them were a son, grandson and two

great grandsons of Peter Yi who took Chinese books to the

Hermitage group in 1775 – four generations of martyrs in

one family. Long after persecutions ceased, priests continued

to live and work in secret. Only in 1886, when the first

Franco-Korean treaty was signed, did the law relax.

Princess Mary

When Gustave Mutel became Vicar Apostolic in 1891,

the Great Prince of the Palace was still alive. It was no


longer a crime to be a Christian, and the new bishop was

approached by the Great Prince’s wife, asking for baptism.

This proved impractical because as head of the

palace household she was in charge of preparing food for

the ancestral sacrifices. The situation changed when in

1896 she retired from the headship because of her age

(she was 78). The bishop visited her after dark on 11

October and baptised her as Mary in the house of one of

her palace ladies. On 6 September 1897 he visited her

again for her confession and first Holy Communion. It

was also her last communion, for she died four months

later on 8 January 1898. Her husband, who had started

and organised the greatest of the persecutions, died on 22

February. Some time before he had sent a small gift to

Bishop Mutel, together with an ambiguous message saying

he regretted what he had done to the Christians and

that he had been deceived.

The martyrs’ heritage

In the days of the martyrs there were no separate Korean

words for ‘Catholicism’ and ‘Christianity’. The Chinese

name for Christianity, devised by the great Mateo Ricci

in the 16th century, served for both. It meant, literally,

‘the God Doctrine’. Belief in one almighty and loving

Creator God was indeed the crucial subject on which the

martyrs were most frequently questioned and for which

they were derided during their trials. They died for their

8,000 MARTYRS 61


belief in God and salvation by the blood of Christ. The

Christian virtues they most prized were humility, love,

and care for the poor.

When the Churches of the Reformation began their

missionary work in Korea after 1882, all of them save the

Anglicans introduced a different word for God and chose

to call their teaching not ‘God Doctrine’ but ‘Jesus

Doctrine’. Thus Korean Protestants came to think of the

Catholic martyrs as having died for a different religion.

Some wise Protestant missionaries, however, expressed

great reverence for the martyrs, and today Korean

Christians all increasingly see themselves as their heirs.

In the 1960s the Catholic Church in Korea agreed to use

the word for God preferred by Protestants.

In 1984 Pope John Paul II visited Korea to celebrate

the second centenary of the baptism of Peter Yi in Beijing

and the birth of the Korean Church. On 6 May at the Han

River sands where St Laurent Imbert, St Andrew Kim

and many others had suffered and died, he canonised 103

martyrs: 3 French bishops, 7 French priests, 46 Korean

men and 47 Korean women. It was the first canonisation

ever performed outside Rome.

The calendar of saints used by the Catholic Church

now contains a commemoration on 20 September of

‘Saint Andrew Kim Taegön, Saint Paul Chöng Hasang,

and their Companions, Martyrs’. They are remembered

at altars all over the world.




Pope John Paul II visited South Korea in 1984. On leaving

Seoul Cathedral on Sunday morning, 6th May, the Holy

Father went to Youido Square where he celebrated Mass

and canonized 103 Korean Martyrs in the presence of an

estimated more than half a million people.

Korean Martyrs inscribed in the list of Saints

“Today it is given to me, the Bishop of Rome and

Successor of Saint Peter – In that Apostolic See, to participate

in the jubilee of the Church on Korean soil. I have

already spent several days in your midst as a pilgrim, fulfilling

as Bishop and Pope my service to the sons and

daughters of the beloved Korean nation. Today’s Liturgy

institutes the culminating point of this pastoral service.

For behold: through this liturgy of Canonization the

Blessed Korean Martyrs are inscribed in the list of the

Saints of the Catholic Church. These are true sons and

daughters of your nation and they are joined by a number

of missionaries from other lands. They are your

ancestors, according to the flesh, language, and culture.

At the same time they are your fathers – and mothers in

the faith, a faith to which they bore witness by the shedding

of their blood. From the thirteen-year-old Peter Yu



to the seventy-two-year-old Mark Chong, men and

women, clergy and laity, rich and poor, ordinary people

and nobles, many of them descendants of earlier unsung

martyrs they all gladly died for the sake of Christ.

Listen to the last words of Teresa Kwon, one of the

early, martyrs: “Since the Lord of Heaven is the Father of

all mankind and the Lord of all creation, how can you ask

me to betray him? Even in this world anyone who betrays

his own father or mother will not be forgiven. All the

more may I never betray him who is the Father of us all.”

A generation later, Peter Yu’s father Augustine firmly

declares: “Once having known God. I cannot possibly

betray him.” Peter Cho goes even further and says: “Even

supposing that one’s own father committed a crime, still

one cannot disown him as no longer being one’s father.

How then can I say that I do not know the heavenly Lord

Father who is so good?

And what did the seventeen-year-old Agatha Yi say

when she and her younger brother were falsely told that

their parents had betrayed the faith? Whether my parents

betrayed or not is their affair. As for us, we cannot betray

the Lord of heaven whom we have always served.”

Hearing this, six other adult Christians freely delivered

themselves to the magistrates to be martyred. Agatha, her

parents and those other six are all being canonized today.

In addition, there are countless other unknown. humble

martyrs who no less faithfully and bravely served the Lord.



Like unto Christ

The Korean Martyrs have borne witness to the crucified

and risen Christ. Through the sacrifice of their own lives

they have become like Christ in a very special way. The

words of Saint Paul the Apostle could truly have been

spoken by them: We are “always carrying in the body the

death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be

manifested in our bodies. We are always being given up

to death for Jesus’ sake; so that the life of Jesus may be

manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor 4:10-11).

The death of the martyrs is similar to the death of

Christ on the Cross, because like his, theirs has become

the beginning of new life. This new life was manifested

not only in themselves – in those who underwent death

for Christ- but it was also extended to others. It became

the leaven of the Church as the living community of disciples

and witnesses to Jesus Christ. “The blood of martyrs

is the seed of Christians”: this phrase from the first

centuries of Christianity is confirmed before our eyes.

Today the Church on Korean soil desires in a solemn

way to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the gift of

the Redemption. It is of this gift that Saint Peter writes:

“You were ransomed… not with perishable things such as

silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (I Pt

1:18-19). To this lofty price, to this price of the

Redemption, your Church desires, on the basis of the witness

of the Korean Martyrs, to add an enduring witness of

faith, hope and charity.



Through this witness may Jesus Christ be ever more

widely known in your land: the crucified and risen Christ,

Christ, the Way and the Truth and the Life, Christ, true

God: the Son of the living God. Christ, true man: the Son

of the Virgin Mary.”

(Extracts from the Homily of John Paul II at the canonization of the

Korean Martyrs, 6th May 1984)




No. Name (Age) Notes (Numbers refer to list)

Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 16 September 1846

1. Kim Taegön/Andrew (25) First Korean priest. Son of 41,

nephew of 57. Gentry class.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 22 September 1839

2. Chöng Hasang/ Paul (44) Catechist. Son of 49, brother of 54.

Gentry class.

Died in the Criminal Court Prison, Seoul 25 November 1838

3. Yi Hoyöng/ Peter (35) Catechist. Brother of 7. Gentry class.

Beaten to death, Police Prison, Seoul 20/21 May 1839

4. Chöng Kukpo/ Protase (40) Apostatised, then gave himself up.

Gentry class.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 24 May 1839

5. Kim Agi/ Agatha (52) Widow. ‘Agi’ means ‘daughter’ and

is not a name.

6. Pak Agi/ Anna (56)

7. Yi/ Agatha (55) Widow. Sister of 3.

8. Kim Öbi/ Magdalene(65) Widow.

9. Yi Kwanghön/ Augustine (52)Catechist. Husband of 26,

father of 58, brother of 21. Gentry.

10. Han Agi/ Barbara (47) Widow.

11. Pak Hüisun/ Lucy (38) Virgin. Sister of 25. Palace servant.

12. Nam Myönghyök/ Damian (37)Catechist. Husband of 29.

13. Kwön Tügin/ Peter (34) Maker of devotional articles.

Died in the Police Prison, Seoul 26-29 May 1839.

14. Chang Söngjip/ Joseph(53) A herbalist.


15. Kim/ Barbara (34) Widow.

16. Yi/ Barbara (14) Granddaughter of 36, niece of 22

and 28. Gentry class.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 20 July 1839.

17. Kim/ Rose (55)

18. Kim Söngim/ Martha (49) Gave herself up.

19. Yi Maeim/ Theresa (51) Sister-in law of 36, aunt of 22 and 28.

Gentry class.

20. Kim Changgüm/ Anna (50) Widow.

21. Yi Kwangnyöl/John (44) Brother of 9, brother-in law of 26,

uncle of 58. Gentry class.

22. Yi Yönghüi/Magdalene (30) Virgin. Daughter of 36, sister of 28,

niece of 19, aunt of 16.

23. Kim/ Lucy (21) Virgin. Gave herself up.

24. Wön Kwiim/ Maria (21) Virgin. Seamstress.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 3 September 1839

25. Pak K’ünagi/ Maria (53) Sister of 11. ‘K’ünagi’ (‘eldest

daughter’) is not a name.

26. Kwön Hüi/ Barbara(45) Wife of 9, mother of 58,

sister-in-law of 21.

27. Pak Hujae/ John (40) Straw shoe maker.

28. Yi Chönghüi/ Barbara (40) Widow. Daughter of 36,

sister of 22, niece of 19, aunt of 16.

29. Yi Yönhüi/ Maria (35) Wife of 12.

30. Kim Hyoju/ Agnes (23) Virgin. Sister of 44.

Died in the Criminal Court Prison, Seoul 12 September 1839

31. Ch’oe Kyönghwan/ Francis (34)Catechist. His son Yangöp (Thomas)

was 2nd Korean priest.

Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 21 September 1839

32. Laurent Imbert (43) 2nd Vicar Apostolic (French bishop).


33. Pierre Maubant (35) French priest.

34. Jacques Chastan (35) French priest.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 22 September 1839

35. Yu Chin’gil/ Augustine (48) Father of 48. Professional class.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 26 September 1839

36. Hö Kyeim/ Magdalene (66) Mother of 22 and 28.

37. Nam Igwan/ Sebastian (59) Catechist. Husband of 51.

38. Kim/ Julietta (55) Virgin. Palace servant.

39. Chön Kyönghyöp/ Agatha (52)Virgin. Palace servant.

40. Cho Sinch’öl/ Charles (46) Husband of 70, son-in-law of 50 and 64.

41. Kim Chejun/ Ignatius (43) Catechist. Father of 1.

42. Pak Pongson/ Magdalene (43)Widow.

43. Hong Kümju/ Perpetua (35) Widow.

44. Kim Hyoim/ Columba (25) Virgin. Sister of 30.

Died in prison, Seoul September 1839.

45. Kim/ Lucy (70) Nicknamed ‘Hunchback’.

Died in prison, Seoul September-October 1839.

46. Yi/ Catherine (56) Widow. Mother of 47.

47. Cho/ Magdalene (32) Virgin. Daughter of 46.

Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 31 October 1839.

48. Yu Taech’öl/ Peter (12) Son of 35. Professional class.

Youngest in the canonised list.

Died in prison, Seoul 23 November 1839

49. Yu/ Cecilia (78) Mother of 2 and 54. Gentry class.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 29 December 1839

50. Ch’oe Ch’anghüp/ Peter (52) Husband of 64, father of 70,

father-in-law of 40. Professional.

51. Cho Chüngi/ Barbara (57) Wife of 37. Gentry class.

52. Han Yöngi/ Magdalene (55) Widow. Mother of 67.

53. Hyön Kyöngnyön/ Benedicta (45)Catechist. Sister of 72.

Seamstress. Professional class.


54. Chöng Chönghye/ Elisabeth (42)Virgin. Daughter of 49,

sister of 2. Gentry class.

55. Ko Suni/ Barbara (41) Wife of 62.

56. Yi Yöngdök/ Magdalene (27) Virgin. Sister of 66. Gentry class.

Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 9 January 1840

57. Kim/ Theresa (44) Aunt of 1.

58. Yi/ Agatha (17) Virgin. Daughter of 9 and 26,

niece of 21.

Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 30 January 1840

59. Min Kükka/ Stephen (53) Catechist. Gentry class.

Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 23 January 1840

60. Chöng Hwagyöng/ Andrew (33)Catechist.

Beaten to death, Seoul 31 January – 1 February 1840

61. Hö Im/ Paul (45) Soldier.

Beheaded, Tang-kogae, Seoul 31 January 1840

62. Pak Chongwön/ Augustine (48)Catechist. Husband of 55.

Professional class.

63. Hong Pyöngju/ Pete (42) Catechist. Brother of 68. Gentry class.

64. Son Sobyök/ Magdalene (39) Wife of 50, mother of 70.

65. Yi Kyöngi/ Agatha (27) Virgin.

66. Yi Indök/ Maria (22) Virgin. Sister of 56.

67. Kwön Chini/ Agatha (21) Daughter of 52. Apostatised

and recanted.

Beheaded, Tang-kogae, Seoul 1 February 1840

68. Hong Yöngju/ Paul (39) Catechist. Brother of 63.

69. Yi Munu/ John (31) Catechist. Gentry class.

Companion of Fr Maubant.

70. Ch’oe Yöngi/ Barbara (22) Daughter of 50 and 64, wife of 40.

Strangled in prison, Seoul 29 April 1841

71. Kim Söngu/ Antony (46) Catechist.



Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 19 September 1846

72. Hyön Söngmun/ Charles (49) Catechist. Professional class.

Strangled or beaten to death in the Police Prison, Seoul 20 September 1846

73. Nam Kyöngmun/ Peter (50) Soldier. Professional class.

74. Han Ihyöng/ Laurence (47) Catechist. Gentry class.

75. U Surim/ Susanna (43) Widow. Gentry class.

76. Im Ch’ibaek/ Joseph (42) Policeman.

77. Kim Imi/ Theresa (35) Virgin.

78. Yi Kannan/ Agatha (32) Widow.

79. Chöng Ch’öryöm/ Catherine (29)

Beaten to death, P’yöngyang 17 February 1866

80. Yu Chöngnyul/ Peter (29) Farmer.

Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 6 March 1866

81. Siméon Berneux (52) 4th Vicar Apostolic (French bishop)

82. Juste de Bretenières (28) French priest.

83. Pierre Dorie (27) French priest.

84. Louis Beaulieu (26) French priest.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 6 March 1866

85. Nam Chongsam/ John (49) Royal secretary of the 3rd grade.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 9 March 1866

86. Chön Changun/ John (55) Flour merchant.

Published Catholic books.

87. Ch’oe Hyöng/ Peter (52) Published Catholic books.

Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 11 March 1866

88. Chöng Üibae/ Mark (71) Catechist.

89. U Seyöng/ Alexius (21) Apostatised in P’yöngyang,

then gave himself up in Seoul.

Decapitation with display, Kalmae-mot, Poryöng 30 March 1866

90. Antoine Daveluy (49) 5th Vicar Apostolic (French bishop).

91. Luc Huin (30) French priest.


92. Pierre Aumaitre (29) French priest.

93. Chang Chugi/ Joseph (63) Catechist.

94. Hwang Söktu/ Luke (53) Catechist. Helped Bishop

Daveluy in translation work.

Strangled, Kongju 30 March 1866

95. Son Chasön/ Thomas (22) Farmer.

Beheaded, Chönju 13 December 1866

96. Chöng Munho/ Bartholomew (65)Gentry class.

97. Cho Hwasö/ Peter (51) Father of 102. Farmer.

98. Son Sönji/ Peter (46) Catechist.

99. Yi Myöngsö/ Peter (45)

100. Han Wönsö/ Peter (Joseph) (20)Catechist. Farmer.

101. Chöng Wönji/ Peter (20) Farmer.

Beaten to death, Chönju 12 December 1886

102. Cho Yunho/ Joseph (18) Son of 97. Farmer.

Beheaded, Taegu 21 January 1867

103. Yi Yunil/ John (43) Catechist.

The first Korean item presented to the British Museum Library is

Additional Manuscript 14054. It is a copy of the Chinese Lord’s Prayer

transcribed in Korean script by Paul Yun who was martyred in 1795.

His cause for canonisation is being promoted by the diocese of Suwön.

Copyright © 2012 Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46

Harleyford Road, London SE11 5AY. Permission limited to reproduce

this text in Korea on a non-for profit basis. For permissions beyond this,

contact the copyright holders in writing.

Korean Martyrs


The story of a Welsh Christian martyr who took bibles to Korea and was executed in Pyongyang – Robert Jermain Thomas



The story appears at:   – December 26th  2016

This  link is to a BBC Radio Wales documentary about Robert Jermain Thomas. It went out last week,– or you can listen anytime you want for 30 days on the iPlayer.

Here it is:

and the story of more than 8,000 Catholic martyrs who first brought Christianity to Korea:

Korean martyrs

Chesterton and Eliot on the Epiphany

You can listen to T.S.Eliot reading his Epiphany poem The Journey of the Magi –  from a poor recording.

Or you can listen to Jeremy Irons on BBC radio on new Year’s Day or  – beautifully read by Martin Harris

Ann Chen reads Chesterton’s The Wise Men




THE WISE MEN     –     G.K. Chesterton

Step softly, under snow or rain,

To find the place where men can pray;

The way is all so very plain

That we may lose the way

.Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore

On tortured puzzles from our youth,

We know all the labyrinthine lore,We are the three wise men of yore,

And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill

And lost the wood among the trees,

And learnt long names for every ill,

And serve the made gods, naming still

The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil

Of vision and philosophy,

The Serpent that brought all men bale,

He bites his own accursed tail,

And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly … it has hailed and snowed…

With voices low and lanterns lit;

So very simple is the road,

That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,

And blinding white the breaking day;

We walk bewildered in the light,

For something is too large for sight,

And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun

… We need but walk a little way,

We need but see a latch undone…

The Child that played with moon and sun

Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,

The old strange house that is our own,

Where trick of words are never said,

And Mercy is as plain as bread,

And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,

And low and large and fierce the Star;

So very near the Manger lies

That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes

To roar to the resounding plain.

And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,

For God Himself is born again,

And we are little children walking

Through the snow and rain.


T.S.Eliot: The Journey of the Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

‘And the camels galled, sore-footed,refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes,

the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their  liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns  unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a  temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped in away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no imformation, and so   we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment   too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say)   satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I    remember,

And I would do it again, but set downThis set down

This:  were we led all that way forBirth or Death?

There was a Birth,   certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt.

I had  seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different;

this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us,

like   Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these  Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old   dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their  gods.

I should be glad of another death..

Christmas Greetings -epiphanyEpiphany3Epiphany2Epihany1Epiphany4

2015 and the Sultan of Brunei Bans Christmas – BOKO HARAM KILL 14 CHRISTIANS ON CHRISTMAS DAY 2015 = G.K.Chesterton, the Celebration of Christmas, and Knowing How The Story Ends


2015: Christians, Christmas, and The Growing Wave of Intolerance….

 Last year, the Sultan of Brunei introduced Sharia criminal law, which allows for punishments including stoning, whipping and amputation. This year, following in the footsteps of Lenin and Stalin, he has banned Christmas celebrations.

And when Somalia, with its history of Al-Shabaab atrocities, lines up in imitation, it should give the Sultan cause to reflect. All the world over we should rejoice in one another’s religious festivals. They can enrich and inspire communities.

 Remember that in Russia, the Communists replaced  St. Nicholas with “Did Moroz,” or Grandfather Frost. Christmas trees were banned and Stalin folded all Christmas celebrations into secular  New Year celebrations. Communists in Vietnam forbade children’s choirs to sing “Silent Night.” and Christmas was banned in Cuba.

In  1983, in Communist Romania, under the dictatorship of Ceaucescu,  a Roman Catholic priest, Father Geza Palffy,  preached against Ceaucescu’s diktat that  December 25th would be a a work day, not a holiday. The following morning  the Securității Statuluihe  – the secret – arrested him. He was beaten, imprisoned and died.

Soviet Communists rewrote a much-loved Ukrainian Christmas carol, “Nova Radist Stala” (Joyous News Has Come to Us), replacing it with the words “The joyous news has come which never was before. Long-awaited star of freedom lit the skies in October [the month of the Revolution]. Where formerly lived the kings and had the roots their nobles, there today with simple folks, Lenin’s glory hovers.

As he now joins such company, the Sultan should remember that these attempts to crush the Christmas message all failed. Yet, actions like his can provide a licence to those who wish to disrespect those minorities, of whatever faith, who live in their midst.  Such actions jeopardise the fragile relationships of the many communities and countries where men and women strive to live alongside one another. 

 In more than one hundred countries  – from Syria to North Korea, from Nigeria to Iraq – Christians face genocide,  crimes against humanity, torture,  imprisonment, persecution or discrimination. 

As we celebrate this great Christmas feast we know that waiting in the wings, and remembered by Christians on the days which follow, are the martyrdom of Stephen and the murder of the holy innocents.

What a tragedy that the 21st century – replete with beheadings, rape, abductions, torture and vast numbers of refugees – still witnesses such cruelty and barbarism. The great challenge facing people of all faiths and none is how to learn to respect the dignity of difference and to live peaceably alongside one another in mutual respect.


Somalia and Tajikistan follow Brunei in banning the celebration of Christmas:

Nigeria, December 27 /MCN/
Boko Haram gunmen killed at least 14 Christians as they celebrated Christmas day in the Kimba village, which lies in north-east Nigeria Saturday. According to The Guardian today, a group of gunmen attacked the village of Kimba on motorcycles and shot many residents of the village after they burned their homes. The Guardian quoted some eyewitnesses who said the militants stormed the village and killed 14 Christians and burned the houses before they fled. Another witness noted that houses of Muslims and Christians were burned alike and they did not leave a single house intact.

The newspaper pointed out that hundreds of residents of the village of Kimba fled to a nearby village with many camps, where hundreds fled for fear of terrorist attacks by Boko Haram.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged he would completely eliminate supporters of Boko Haram before the beginning of the new year.

Buhari, who took office last May, said he would work to eliminate terrorism and extremism, which lasted six years and led to death of 17,000 innocent people and would stand in the face of the group that could achieve economic progress because of the investments it builds, especially in oil.

The newspaper added that the Nigerian troops managed to liberate territory controlled by Boko Haram in the past, but, on the other hand, the supporters of the group launched numerous terrorist attacks that caused the deaths of hundreds of children.

The newspaper added that Boko Haram is facing damage to its infrastructure at a time the state is experiencing cash crisis because of the low price of oil.

The Guardian stressed that Boko Haram is one of the most extremist and bloodiest group according to an index of global terrorism after killing 30 people and wounding more than 20 in an attack on a village.

Analysts in Nigeria believe that although the objective sought by all the armed groups and Boko Haram is the same, but the possibility of cooperation between them is very weak. This does not mean there is no fear that such cooperation can occur if extremist groups, whether Boko haram or other groups, took control over neighboring countries, such as Nigeria, Niger, Chad or Cameroon.

G. K. Chesterton once said that the world would never starve for wonders, but only for the want of wonder.Chesterton and Christmas

Christmas 2011

Extracts from G.K. Chesterton on celebrating Christmas…

It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is. Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday. At the next moment your heart leaps up and your soul and body dance together like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a worshipper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice. If, on the other hand, you are a modern Christian Englishman, you hail (of course) with the same explosion of gaiety the appearance of the English Sunday. But I say that whatever the day is that is to you festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be a quite clear black line between it and the time going before. And all the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something before the actual coming of Christmas Day

Of course, all this secrecy about Christmas is merely sentimental and ceremonial; if you do not like what is sentimental and ceremonial, do not celebrate Christmas at all. You will not be punished if you don’t; also, since we are no longer ruled by those sturdy Puritans who won for us civil and religious liberty, you will not even be punished if you do. But I cannot understand why any one should bother about a ceremonial except ceremonially. If a thing only exists in order to be graceful, do it gracefully or do not do it. If a thing only exists as something professing to be solemn, do it solemnly or do not do it. There is no sense in doing it slouchingly; nor is there even any liberty. I can understand the man who takes off his hat to a lady because it is the customary symbol. I can understand him, I say; in fact, I know him quite intimately. I can also understand the man who refuses to take off his hat to a lady, like the old Quakers, because he thinks that a symbol is superstition. But what point would there be in so performing an arbitrary form of respect that it was not a form of respect? We respect the gentleman who takes off his hat to the lady; we respect the fanatic who will not take off his hat to the lady. But what should we think of the man who kept his hands in his pockets and asked the lady to take his hat off for him because he felt tired?

This is combining insolence and superstition; and the modern world is full of the strange combination. There is no mark of the immense weak-mindedness of modernity that is more striking than this general disposition to keep up old forms, but to keep them up informally and feebly. Why take something which was only meant to be respectful and preserve it disrespectfully? Why take something which you could easily abolish as a superstition and carefully perpetuate it as a bore? There have been many instances of this half-witted compromise. Was it not true, for instance, that the other day some mad American was trying to buy Glastonbury Abbey and transfer it stone by stone to America? Such things are not only illogical, but idiotic. There is no particular reason why a pushing American financier should pay respect to Glastonbury Abbey at all. But if he is to pay respect to Glastonbury Abbey, he must pay respect to Glastonbury. If it is a matter of sentiment, why should he spoil the scene? If it is not a matter of sentiment, why should he ever have visited the scene? To call this kind of thing Vandalism is a very inadequate and unfair description. The Vandals were very sensible people. They did not believe in a religion, and so they insulted it; they did not see any use for certain buildings, and so they knocked them down. But they were not such fools as to encumber their march with the fragments of the edifice they had themselves spoilt. They were at least superior to the modern American mode of reasoning. They did not desecrate the stones because they held them sacred.

Let us be consistent, therefore, about Christmas, and either keep customs or not keep them. If you do not like sentiment and symbolism, you do not like Christmas; go away and celebrate something else; I should suggest the birthday of Mr. M’Cabe. No doubt you could have a sort of scientific Christmas with a hygienic pudding and highly instructive presents stuffed into a Jaeger stocking; go and have it then. If you like those things, doubtless you are a good sort of fellow, and your intentions are excellent. I have no doubt that you are really interested in humanity; but I cannot think that humanity will ever be much interested in you. Humanity is unhygienic from its very nature and beginning. It is so much an exception in Nature that the laws of Nature really mean nothing to it. Now Christmas is attacked also on the humanitarian ground. Ouida called it a feast of slaughter and gluttony. Mr. Shaw suggested that it was invented by poulterers. That should be considered before it becomes more considerable.

I do not know whether an animal killed at Christmas has had a better or a worse time than it would have had if there had been no Christmas or no Christmas dinners. But I do know that the fighting and suffering brotherhood to which I belong and owe everything, Mankind, would have a much worse time if there were no such thing as Christmas or Christmas dinners. Whether the turkey which Scrooge gave to Bob Cratchit had experienced a lovelier or more melancholy career than that of less attractive turkeys is a subject upon which I cannot even conjecture. But that Scrooge was better for giving the turkey and Cratchit happier for getting it I know as two facts, as I know that I have two feet. What life and death may be to a turkey is not my business; but the soul of Scrooge and the body of Cratchit are my business. Nothing shall induce me to darken human homes, to destroy human festivities, to insult human gifts and human benefactions for the sake of some hypothetical knowledge which Nature curtained from our eyes. We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty. If we catch sharks for food, let them be killed most mercifully; let any one who likes love the sharks, and pet the sharks, and tie ribbons round their necks and give them sugar and teach them to dance. But if once a man suggests that a shark is to be valued against a sailor, or that the poor shark might be permitted to bite off a man’s leg occasionally; then I would court-martial the man–he is a traitor to the ship.

Meanwhile, it remains true that I shall eat a great deal of turkey this Christmas; and it is not in the least true (as the vegetarians say) that I shall do it because I do not realise what I am doing, or because I do what I know is wrong, or that I do it with shame or doubt or a fundamental unrest of conscience. In one sense I know quite well what I am doing; in another sense I know quite well that I know not what I do. Scrooge and the Cratchits and I are, as I have said, all in one boat; the turkey and I are, to say the most of it, ships that pass in the night, and greet each other in passing. I wish him well; but it is really practically impossible to discover whether I treat him well. I can avoid, and I do avoid with horror, all special and artificial tormenting of him, sticking pins in him for fun or sticking knives in him for scientific investigation. But whether by feeding him slowly and killing him quickly for the needs of my brethren, I have improved in his own solemn eyes his own strange and separate destiny, whether I have made him in the sight of God a slave or a martyr, or one whom the gods love and who die young–that is far more removed from my possibilities of knowledge than the most abstruse intricacies of mysticism or theology. A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished.

G.K.ChestertonVirgin and Child
The House of ChristmasG.K. Chesterton
By: G. K. ChestertonThere fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.—————————————————————————————————-The worth of a disabled person’s life:…and two seasonal links to cheer you up

The Nativity in stained glass
St.Francis creates the crib

In a children’s picture story book which we have at home there is an illustration of Santa Claus reading a story to the baby Jesus. The narrative is the baby’s own story – the story of the child’s birth in a stable, comforted by his mother, protected by Joseph, surrounded by shepherds and angels, warmed by the donkey and the ox, and with the Magi and their gifts to follow. The perfect scene is almost magical, but, asks the baby “how does it all end?”. How does it all end?

Without losing anything of the innocence and purity of that moment, and because we know only too well the answer to the infant’s question, the story reminds us to be realistic about Christmas.

We know what is inevitably coming, what is waiting in the wings. We will share with the Catholic writer, J.R.R.Tolkien, the belief that history “is a long defeat” but with “glimpses of the final victory.”

It is precisely because the story won’t end at Golgotha but in Jerusalem’s empty tomb that sense can be made of the breaking of the Christmas spell and of the defeats, the suffering, the rejection and pain which will face the child and His family from the moment He leaves the shelter of Bethlehem’s stable – going into exile, as the people of Israel did before Him.

As all these events unfold I am always struck by the proximity of that greatly derided animal, the donkey . Always a star attraction in every school’s nativity play my eldest son, Padraig, made his acting debut as the Christmas donkey.

Although the donkey appears nowhere in the Gospel the donkey is firmly fixed in our imaginations. The prophet Isaiah certainly foretold a central role for this most maligned of creatures: “The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib.”

The donkey carries the unborn Jesus in Mary’s womb as they travel to Bethlehem for the census. The donkey is at close quarters during the child’s birth. The donkey enables Joseph to make good their escape as they are pursued by Herod’s killers and make their escape to Jerusalem. And, all those years later, it is the donkey, ho bears the King through the palm waving crowds as He enters Jerusalem.

G.K.Chesterton immortalised the value of the donkey in some verse which takes the animal’s name:

” When fishes flew and forests walkedAnd figs grew upon thornSome moment when the moon was bloodThen surely I was born. With monstrous head and sickening cryAnd ears like errant wings,The devil’s walking parody On all four-footed things. The tattered outlaw of the earth Of ancient crooked will:Starve, scourge, deride me–I am dumb–I keep my secret still. Fools! for I also had my hour,One far, fierce hour and sweetThere was a shout about my earsAnd palms before my feet.”


What Chesterton is reminding us is that God sees us differently from the way in which we see ourselves and from the way we see one another.

The donkey is chosen above the stallion to bear the King of Kings; the tattered, unloved, and unattractive creature which is used for menial hard labour, despised and marked out for servitude, and endures the worst of things, is chosen above all others for this wondrous moment – and we cannot take that away from him.

The donkey’s humble but sturdy and dependable frame contradicts a world which places too much value on the right social connections; on outward appearance and displays of ephemeral and passing beauty; on what we have rather than what we give; and on what we own rather than who we are. Ultimately, the donkey understands this typical Chestertonian paradox and internalises the knowledge that regardless of how the world sees him, he has true value and intrinsic worth.

In making us look at the donkey isn’t Chesterton making us look at ourselves? And making us consider how God sees us?

Beyond the banter which many of us might recall from school days – of being chided by schoolmasters as donkeys for some act of stubbornness or stupidity – is a harsher imagery: the large swathes of humanity that feel crushed or borne down by their burdens, unable to escape from the servitude of exploitative labour or trapped in unfulfilling or unappreciated employment or relationships. Through those eyes we can surely understand how the donkey must feel.

As this year comes to its conclusion I think back to some of the people I have met in recent times and to places where people are treated no differently from beasts of burden.

I think of  some of India’s Dalit people in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, who are marked out by caste as untouchable people.

Dalit Children In India - no-one is untouchable

Dalit Children In India – no-one is untouchable


The word Dalit comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “broken” or “crushed” – and like those other beasts of burden – the Dalit people, a quarter of India’s population, are used for menial tasks such as scavenging and the cleaning of latrines.

In my study I have a small terracotta pot given to me by Dr Joseph D’Souza, President of the International Dalit Freedom Network.

Once a Dalit has drunk from the pot they must break it – so as not to pollute or contaminate other castes who might come into contact with it. It is not the pots which need to be broken, not the people, but this monstrous system which ensnares them.

I have also been thinking about the people I met in Africa in October.

Children suffer in Sudan at the hands of the Khartoum regime

Children suffer in Sudan at the hands of the Khartoum regime


Although South Sudan has become an independent nation, the killing in South Kordofan and Blue Nile continues  at the behest of Khartoum’s northern  regime, already indicted for crimes against humanity in Darfur. These, too, are a people who have been crushed and burdened – two million died during the civil war a decade ago; and during the past twelve months more people died in Southern Sudan than even in Darfur.

In the summer I once again met the brave Bishop Macram Gassis, who has spent many years defying assassination attempts, and who courageously continues to work for peace and justice:

Surely, this Christmas, we will be praying for an enduring peace, for justice, and for the upholding of human dignity in Sudan.

And I will also be thinking of Burma – and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi – and of North Korea – where there is so much suffering but also glimpses of hope – and perhaps even glimpses of Tolkien’s “final victory.”  In September I travelled to Seoul, North East China and to the border with North Korea at the River Tumen, where escaping refugees are regularly shot dead. 

North Korea spent $800 million launching a missile while people go without food -  and shoot to kill refugees at the River Tumen

North Korea spent $800 million launching a missile while people go without food – and shoot to kill refugees at the River Tumen

On a visit to North Korea I had a surreal experience as my Air China plane touched down at Pyongyang airport the music which was played into the passenger cabin was Isaac Watts’ Christmas carol “Joy To The World”:

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room;

And let Heaven and nature sing.”

For North Korea may that be so.

In singing our Christmas carols and offering our Christmas Masses, remembering broken people, and the burdened donkey, we must hold this joy in our hearts knowing what the Christmas story represents and knowing with confidence how the story will end.


The Virgin and Child



2015 – Pray for North Korea this Christmas:

Christmas Reflection


Christmas again – and in a remote corner of the Roman empire a boy who changes the world is born in a manger; a boy who will never become a ruler, who never owned a car or a mansion, who never ran for high political office, never become a celebrity or  rose to be a man of great wealth or rank.


Rachel laments for the children who are no more

Rachel laments for the children who are no more


Yet, the birth of this boy, who, other than the clothes stripped from His body and divided among His torturers, will leave no earthly possessions behind Him and be buried in another man’s grave, strikes such fear into the mind of Herod the King that a genocide of young children is ordered.




Herod orders the killing of the innocents - a parable for our own times

Herod orders the killing of the innocents – a parable for our own times


A Brief Place of Safety - a place to be born

A Brief Place of Safety – a place to be born

In unleashing this horrific wave of persecution thousands of other young boys, under the age of two, are murdered. To escape the massacre the child in the manger is secreted away in the dead of night to a place of safety in far away Egypt.

Escape To Egypt

Escape To Egypt

In the midst of the shopping frenzy and consumerism which marks out our contemporary Christmas it’s worth pondering these extraordinary events.


In the whirly-gig of preparations for the great festival we not only overlook the awesome religious significance of the manger moment – when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – but we overlook the brutality and violence which accompanies the new Adam at his Bethlehem nativity. 


It is a sobering thought that, even as those near magical and enchanted moments are being enacted, when the shepherds and the Magi kneel before Him and worship God, Herod’s ruthless butchers are sharpening and making ready their knives.   In the words of the sixteenth century Coventry Carol:


Herod, the king, in his raging,

Charged he hath this day

His men of might, in his own sight,

All young children to slay.”

This lament of a mother for her child doomed to die are lyrics with applicability to our own times.


The Coventry Carol

The Coventry Carol

 Written by Robert Croo, in 1534, for the traditional Coventry Plays and included in The Pageant of the Shearman and Tailors Guild, which depicted Herod’s slaughter of the innocents,  the lyrics could so easily be the lament of mothers caught up in contemporary tragedy across the globe.


Whether it is the child caught in the cross fire of a Sudanese militia; the young girl raped by a Congolese war lord; the Ugandan child murdered in a pagan ritual of child sacrifice; the child enlisted to be a child soldier or a drugs runner ; the boy or girl who is trafficked, exploited, robbed of innocence or abused;   the child who each year joins the 100,000 UK runaways; or the baby, sheltering in what should be the safest place on earth – their mother’s womb –  we feel all too keenly the caroler’s lament:


“Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lullay, lullay.”


The boy in the manger represents all persecuted people. His acute vulnerability challenges us to take a stand against the destruction of life and to pit ourselves against today’s Herods and their contemporary crimes against humanity.  This story tells us everything we need to know about how to live – but it also teaches us about how to face everyday crises and about the reality of evil. 


This is the challenging story of a young man and woman caught up in a bewildering drama – but who remain faithful to one another and who cherish a new life;  it is the story of a man who stands by a woman unexpectedly with a child that isn’t his; it’s the story of a boy born in a manger swaddled in poverty; the refugee’s story of a forced escape; the story of a tyrant with a blood lust;  and it is a story lived out against the threatening drum beat of arrest, escape, vilification and persecution. It’s a story that will end on Calvary and triumphantly in an empty tomb.


Although, for the shepherds and the Magi, this is a story which represents a dream come true, for me it remains a story of great crisis. It is the story which can propel us into searching and discovering the very purpose for which we have been made.


We must never let it be muffled by the sentimentalism, rank commercialisation, and forced conviviality into which Christmas celebrations can degenerate. 





In “The God In The Cave” G.K.Chesterton, whose greatest love was the celebration of the Christmas festival, reminds us that if we begin the search it will not be without its risks, that evil hovers over the crib scene, stalking Jesus and His family:


“There was present in the primary scenes of the drama that Enemy that had rotted the legends with lust and frozen the theories into atheism, but which answered the direct challenge with something of that more direct method which we have seen in the conscious cult of the demons.”


Chesterton tells us that these stirrings of evil have a particular “detestation of innocence”.



Herod, he says, “seems in that hour to have felt stirring within him the spirit of strange things… Everyone knows the story; but not everyone has perhaps noted its place in the story of the strange religions of men… a seer might perhaps have seen something like a great grey ghost that looked over his shoulder…The demons in that first festival of Christmas, feasted also in their own fashion.”


Chief among our modern conceits is to foolishly dismiss the presence of evil.


So, let’s celebrate as we welcome again the child into our midst, but never overlook the presence of Chesterton’s grey ghosts.


The Nativity

The Nativity




May you and those you love have a joyous and happy Christmas

Christmas Greetings -epiphany

October Hearing on Eritrea to be followed by November Hearings in Parliament on Pakistani Christians and other minorities – Call for Evidence – Latest Replies From The British Government on Pakistani Escapees; New article “Why does the world stand idle as Pakistan persecutes Christians?”

ERITREA: Briefing in Parliament organised by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, to be chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool, on Tuesday October 20th at 2.00pm in Committee Room 2A of the House of Lords.  Opening Comments by lord Alton


Eritrean Christian refugees have been abducted by ISIS and face execution

Eritrean Christian refugees have been abducted by ISIS and face execution

The Current Situation

The human rights situation in Eritrea is one of the most deplorable in the world, yet one of the least reported.  In a debate in the House in July on freedom of religion and belief I referred to the horrific beheading of Eritrean Christians by ISIS in Libya.  Earlier in the same month I initiated a debate on the refugee crisis and said that “half a million more people are reported to be in Libya waiting to join the exodus. Some 46% of those making these perilous crossings originate from Eritrea or Syria, where we continue to witness the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our time.” I said that “Despotic governments and terrorist organisations have been the major immediate catalysts for conflict and mass migration, but aerial bombardment without a presence on the ground, a post-conflict development strategy, or a new attempt at creating peace will simply generate more refugees “

I highlighted the finding s of the United Nations commission of inquiry into human rights in Eritrea— and cited it as a classic example of the need to tackle the sources of migration. The United Nations found that, “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the Government”


The report also says: that it is wrong to describe the drivers fuelling mass migration as purely economic, and that:

“Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection”.

Every month around 5,000 people leave Eritrea—more than 350,000 so far—around 10% of the entire population. The UN says that, during their journeys:

“Thousands of Eritreans are killed at sea while attempting to reach European shores. The practice of kidnapping migrating individuals, who are released on ransom after enduring horrible torture or killed, targets Eritreans in particular”.

Those Eritrean refugees who have been forced to return have then been arrested, detained and subjected to ill treatment and torture. So refugees from Eritrea, represent what we need to do both there and in other Countries generating mass movements of people —tackle the problem at source. Then we would turn the tables on mass migration, ending the tsunami of people. Not all people fleeing their countries are refugees; some are economic migrants. We will not properly address this crisis without some bigger-picture policies aimed at them, which must include the aim of helping Africa become peaceful and prosperous, and therefore more attractive as a permanent home. This is where our development policies interplay with mass migration.

But let me return to the Resolution passed in June 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council  which created the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (CoIE). Only a handful of countries, with some of the worst human rights situations in the world, have been the focus of such an inquiry, one of the most serious steps the UN can take to hold a country to account.

When presenting the findings of this report to the HRC in June 2015, the Chair of the CoIE, Mike Smith, began by pointing out that since gaining de facto independence in 1991 “ultimate power in Eritrea has remained largely in the hands of one man and one party.”  He added that “those in control often rule arbitrarily and act with impunity.  A promising Eritrean Constitution adopted in 1997 has never been implemented. The Eritrean people have no say in governance and little control over many aspects of their own lives. A massive domestic surveillance network penetrates all levels of society, turning even family members against each other. Much of the population is subject to forced conscription and labour, sometimes in slave-like conditions. Tens of thousands have been imprisoned, often without charge and for indeterminate periods. Eritreans have never voted in a free and fair election.” As a result of this pervasive culture of impunity  “hundreds of thousands have lost hope and are risking their lives to escape one of the world’s most oppressive regimes” in increasing numbers– and this unprecedented exodus from a country facing neither war nor famine has forced the international community to take note of the human rights crisis underway in this secretive nation.

The CoIE report identifies the Eritrean Armed Forces, the National Security Office, the Eritrean Police Forces; the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, the ruling party, the Office of the President; and the President himself as the main perpetrators of human rights violations.   Most importantly, it states that some of these violations, and particularly extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), indefinite national service and forced labour, may constitute crimes against humanity.  The report was adopted by consensus, and in July 2015, the HRC renewed the mandate of the CoIE, directing it to specifically investigate whether or not crimes against humanity have occurred or are underway in Eritrea.

In a parliamentary reply in June the Government confirmed to me  that they were aware of the UN Commission’s findings that “widespread human rights violations are being committed in Eritrea and that these may constitute crimes against humanity. We have made clear to the Government of Eritrea that they must honour their international obligations and that improved respect for human rights is required to stem the flow of irregular migration.”



Asylum and Non-Refoulement

Risks faced by those who flee Eritrea include a government shoot-to-kill border policy; being held pending payment of a ransom by Bedouin people traffickers; being kidnapped from refugee camps in Sudan; dying in the Mediterranean or while crossing deserts, or execution by Daesh (Islamic State) in Libya. In addition, Eritrean women, girls and young boys face sexual violence.  In spite of this, in 2012, the number of Eritreans registered as having fled to Europe was 6,400. In 2013, this increased to 14,580 and in 2014, leapt to 44,600. Around 10% of the Eritrean population is estimated to have fled the country, with Eritrean refugees constituting the second largest people group seeking refuge in Europe.  UK Home office statistics state that in the first quarter of 2015 (Jan-Mar) a record number of Eritreans had applied for asylum – 3552.

However, in March the UK Government updated its advice to staff processing asylum applications from Eritrea. The new advice was based on a now discredited report from the Danish Government, which contrast starkly with the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and the CoIE, and which has been publicly repudiated by some of its writers, who claim the final report is unsubstantiated and distorted and who have since resigned from the Danish Immigration Service.  The guidance also relies on assurances from the Eritrean government, including that those who left Eritrea without securing the mandatory exit visa will face no negative consequences as long as they sign a letter of apology and pay the 2% diaspora tax, yet in March this year in response to a written parliamentary question Foreign Office Minister Mr Lidington stated the UK government had urged the Eritrean diaspora “to report to the police the use of coercion or other illicit means to collect the tax.” Home Office guidance also stated that the country’s indefinite military service had been reduced to between 18 months and 4 years, however, there is no clear evidence of this having occurred and news of this change is yet to be communicated it’s would-be beneficiaries, namely, the  Eritrean people.

Following the new guidance the UK acceptance rate for asylum applications from Eritrea dropped from 73% between Jan-Mar 2015, to 34% between April and June.  Many whose applications were refused are currently destitute; avenues of finance, employment and housing are closed off to them because they lack legal status.

The UK government is not alone in this.  European Union (EU) officials recently outlined plans to deport Eritreans asylum seekers and are allocating development funding for the country as a means of stemming the refugee tide.  However, Eritreans are not economic migrants; they are fleeing persecution and continue to have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned.





Recommendations for the UK Government


The UK Government should:

  • Recognise that Eritrean refugees are not economic migrants, but are in reality fleeing a comprehensively repressive system and a “pervasive culture of impunity”;
  • Update advice issued to Home Office staff managing asylum applications from Eritreans to reflect human rights concerns articulated in the CoIE report, which is based on detailed witness testimonies and outlines violations that “may amount to crimes against humanity;”
  • Ensure the principle of non-refoulement is respected in all asylum applications to the United Kingdom
  • Encourage the EU to re-evaluate its current policy on Eritrea in line with the findings of the CoIE, particularly with regard to non-refoulement;
  • Work with EU partners to support the CoIE in implementing its mandate, in relaying its findings to the HRC, and in any further actions that may arise as a result of its future findings.


The tragedy of Eritrea – like that of Syria – must be tackled at source but, in the meantime, we must respond with humanity and a sense of justice and compassion for those caught up in this appalling situation. 



All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief

Parliamentary Inquiry Call for Evidence

 ‘The Plight of Minority Religious or Belief Groups in Pakistan and as Refugees: Addressing Current UK & UNHCR Policy’

Pakistan represents one of the worst situations for minority religious or belief groups around the world and is rife with persecution on the grounds of religion or belief by both state and non-state actors. With the current policies and laws that Pakistani officials are advancing at both international and domestic levels, including the notorious blasphemy laws, the right of Pakistan’s citizens to freedom of religion or belief is looking unlikely to be upheld and protected in the near future. In addition to these concerns, the UK Home Office and UNHCR relying it seems on the recent UK Supreme Court Upper Tier case (AK and SK (Christians: risk) Pakistan CG [2014] UKUT 569 (IAC)), appears to have a policy that Pakistani religious minorities treatment is not severe enough to grant these individuals refugee status.

While freedom of religion or belief is a protected right under international law and is a clear basis for asylum in the 1951 Refugee Convention, as well as the UK’s current vulnerable persons relocation scheme, the key question remains in UK and international institutions whether all Pakistani minority religious or belief communities’ treatment in Pakistan or abroad ‘amounts to a real risk of persecution’.

In order to be able to look at the current UK and UNHCR policy regarding minority Pakistani religious or belief groups and its validity, the current conditions for such groups living in Pakistan and as refugees will need to be understood. The APPG on International Freedom of Religion or Belief is currently calling for submissions from charities, experts, lawyers, academics, faith-communities and individuals with personal experiences on their concerns, and suggestions on:

  • What circumstances minority religious or belief groups living in Pakistan currently face; both vis-à-vis State and non-State actors
  • What circumstances minority religious or belief groups having left Pakistan as asylum seekers currently face
  • What the current UK and UNHCR policy regarding each minority Pakistani religious or belief community is, whether changes to current policy are required, how these policies and Upper Tier Tribunal Decisions are related, and how any changes should be done

We particularly welcome testimonies from individuals who have recently sought asylum in UK on the grounds of persecution for their faith or belief.

Each submission should be no longer than 3 pages, and clearly indicate the organisation and/or author of the statement. The submissions will contribute to a new report written by the APPG on the subject. The APPG can withhold the identities of authors of statements in the report, if a request for anonymity is clearly made in the submission.

Written submissions may result in individuals or organisations being invited to give oral testimonies at a formal hearing in the Houses of Parliament before selected parliamentarians on 10 November (9:00 – 10:30) and 11 November (10:00 – 12:00) in Portcullis House, Room R. The APPG holds the right to use or not to use submissions in its reporting.

Submissions should be sent to . The deadline for submissions is 5.00pm, 3 November 2015.  


Evidence Taking Sessions With Pakistani Christians – Held in Bangkok,  September 2015

see also:

And see:

Universe October 2015 Pakistan

Evidence Taking Sessions were kindly facilitated by Thai friends introduced to us by Jubilee Campaign. We took evidence from refugees and human rights advocates and also had meetings with UNHCR officials and diplomats.


Throughout  our meetings with human rights advocates and escapees we heard a number of disturbing accounts of shocking and systematic persecution in Pakistan.  

The collective death sentence which has been passed on Pakistan’s Christian community was underlined by the murder of Pakistan’s brave Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, and by the murder of  the courageous  Governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, who was killed after voicing his opposition to the use of Blasphemy Laws  which have become a pretext for systematic and punitive persecution of Christians.

shahbaz bhatti posters

A country which is unable to protect such leading public figures is unlikely to be able to protect ordinary citizens. Sadly, Pakistan has become a breeding ground for barbarism and violence and from which many Christian families have tried to escape.

The accounts which we heard during our evidence sessions paint a picture of well founded fear and from which asylum represents the only prospect of safety and survival.


One witness recounted how his friend, Basil – a pastor’s son – was targeted by Islamists attempting to convert him. He reminded them that there should be no compulsion in requiring religious adherence. Their response was to attack his home in an arson attack. The fire burnt out his home and Basil, his wife and daughter, aged 18 months, were burnt alive.

Following their deaths the assailants turned their attention to his friend.

He was attacked and beaten. He reported this to the police – who then informed the assailants of the complaint. The assailants telephoned him and said that they would kill him. He, his wife, and little girl, fled the country and, after arriving in Bangkok, in 2014, applied for asylum. They have been told by UNHCR that they will be interviewed in 2018.  It could then be a further two years before they are resettled.

This is an intolerable delay – and, meanwhile, he and his wife and child live in fear of being arrested and incarcerated in the detention facilities where they would be separated into segregated cells, sharing a space of 18 feet by 36 feet with up to 100 other prisoners.


Witnesses told us that escapees have devised a rota to enable half the inmates in these cells to sleep at night and the other half sleep by day: “This leaves enough space to stretch out straight, but not to turn over. We just lie side by side, including our children.”

Force fed poultry in battery farms are treated better and  in more humane conditions than these – an analogy which was drawn by one witness.

A French Catholic priest with whom we spoke, and who has worked in the region for four decades, told us of one applicant who arrived in 2007 and who has still been given no final interview date.

The clergyman said that when he began working with detainees, over twenty years ago, UNHCR had two full time officials dealing with cases and “now there is only one and he calls into the Centre just twice a week and he has no time to deal with anyone in any depth.”


UNHCR officials admitted that there are “significant challenges” but also insisted that on most days someone from UNHCR is at the Detention Centre. Escapees countered by saying that this was “rarely an official, usually an interpreter unable to take any decisions.”  UNHCR urgently needs to reassess its staffing levels and the appalling length of time which is being taken to deal with applications.

Another witness underlined the endemic nature of persecution: “It was not just directed at me. It is directed at every Christian.” Having run a pharmacy business for fifteen years, he said that Pakistan police had demanded bribes from him every month saying that if he “did not pay he would be accused of inciting hatred of Islam.”  He has been living in Bangkok with his wife and five children in one room for two years – with his children unable to access any education – and living in constant fear of arrest.  UNHCR have given him no details of when his case will be resolved. We were given an updated chronological account of documented cases which corroborate the assertion of escapees that they have a well founded fear of persecution – often persecution leading to death (as instanced in the bombings in Youhanabad and Lahore which claimed a further 16 lives).The document may be viewed at:

A different  witness described how his legs had been broken by his brothers after he became a Christian in Pakistan. After he refused to recant they hired two men to kill him. Because his sister gave him shelter they incinerated  her home and she died in the fire. His wife abandoned him and he fled to Bangkok with his 12-year-old, traumatised, son.  

Even in Thailand he has received four threatening phone calls from members of his family in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, he has been arrested on several occasions and although he made desperate phone calls to UNHCR – worried about his son being left alone – he claims that no-one responded or came to see him. He says that his emails to UNHCR remain unanswered.  His case re-enforces the failure of both UNHCR and the Royal Thai Government to honour obligations and duties concerning the protection and treatment of children – both those living with parents whose claims are pending often in massively overcrowded conditions and deprived of education) and especially those incarcerated in the Detention Centre (where UNHCR officials told us that conditions are worse than those in Thai prisons).


A different witness also voiced  criticism of UNHCR procedures, saying “there is a complete communications gap” and witnesses repeatedly expressed concern about translators and translation arrangements made by UNHCR.

We were encouraged, however, that UNHCR told us that they are reviewing the way in which translation is done.

Never-the-less, witnesses said they would feel more confident in the asylum process “if translators were Indian Urdu speakers, rather than Pakistanis, who sometimes distort answers, who are hostile to fleeing Christians” and who in one case even told one escapee “you should convert to Islam and go back.” Witnesses suggested that, at a minimum, UNHCR should record interviews and make available the recording to the escapee.

Several witnesses said that the waiting period listed for UNHCR interviews for applicants of other nationalities were considerably less than the waiting time for applicants of Pakistani Christian origin. They also claimed that the rejection rates they experience are very much higher than those of other groups.

In the interests of transparency and accountability we would urge UNHCR to publish data detailing the average waiting times and rejection rates for applicants from each of the 48 countries of origin with which they are dealing in Bangkok.   

We also agree with the human rights organisation, Fortify Rights, who told us that the absence of legal representation for escapees prejudices the situation of refugees. We were dismayed by the conditions in which we were expected to speak to those held in the Detention Centre – shouting across caged barriers three or four feet apart – but legal representatives are denied any access.

UNHCR should do more to insist on the protection of escaping refugees; more to provide access to legal representation; more to develop documentation with the Royal Thai Government which will prevent asylum seekers being arrested or detained in the first instance;  more to provide bail for those who are detained.  They told us that legal representation which had been provided via the Jesuit Refugee Service had been terminated – we presume by the Thai authorities – and nothing has been put in its place.

More could also be done to provide better healthcare and medical support.  One elderly lady we spoke to in the Detention centre suffers from diabetes and other medical conditions. She was arrested in August – has been given an interview date by UNHCR in 2017, has no lawyer and cannot pay the 50,000 Thai Bahts required for bail.

In addition to prioritising the most vulnerable, UNHCR also need to develop better relationships with the refugees and be seen to be the champions of their interests.   We were concerned that UNHCR did not seem to accept the systematic and lethal nature of the persecution of Christians in Pakistan and have not collected accounts of torture and killings or documented family separation within the Detention Centre or  prioritised the suffering of children and minors.


One witness, a tetraplegic  man confined to a wheelchair and whose disability has considerably worsened since he arrived in 2014, said that UNHCR had not been responsive to his particular appeals for help. He told us that his illegal status leaves him in “limbo” and is denied medical support and assistance.

He argued that “UNHCR should work on short term relief as well as the long term issues”:

Whenever we approach UNHCR for help – when the police arrive or when we need food or shelter – they simply say they cannot do anything.”  He was given a perfunctory ten minute interview after he arrived in 2014 has been told his asylum claim will be considered after an interview now scheduled for 2018 and has been told he will then receive an answer by 2019 and may be resettled in 2020. His wife told us that no account seems to have been taken of his chronic health needs and she fears that if his muscle wasting disease is not properly treated and medical help made available, he may not survive the next five years.

The same witness reflected on the dangers facing Christians in Pakistan. He  provided documented evidence and examples of the rape of Christian girls, many of whom are the victims of forced marriages. He said that when he was challenged by a Pakistani official about why he wanted to leave the country he replied “If you make our lives miserable we are left with no other option. We love our country.” He said that return was impossible as they would be jailed and on release would face lives of violent persecution.

78 killed at Pakistan's Anglican Church of All Saints Peshawar in a Taliban attack

78 killed at Pakistan’s Anglican Church of All Saints Peshawar in a Taliban attack

Along with several other witnesses he said that Pakistani border officials had demanded bribes of $250 dollars per person from Christians leaving the country for destinations such as Malaysia, Thailand, or Sri Lanka – “knowing that it was not our intention to return.” Such sums of money are not available to many poorer Christian citizens.

We note that  Indian newspapers recently reported that the Government of India suggested that Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs being persecuted for their religious faith might be given the right to settle in India.

Although this is a very sad reflection  on the failure of the Government of Pakistan to provide protection against the persecution of its religious minorities, and the complete absence of religious toleration and respect for minorities,  an Indian refuge may offer Pakistan’s persecuted citizens some future prospect of safety and security and we hope that UNHCR are exploring this option with the Governments of both countries.

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, being signed here, is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states: high ideals but rhetoric must match reality and words must be matched by deeds.

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, being signed here, is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states: high ideals but rhetoric must match reality and words must be matched by deeds.

UNHCR says:

[its] mandate is to provide, on a non-political and humanitarian basis, international protection to refugees and to seek permanent solutions for them.

We have great respect for the work undertaken by UNHCR in many parts of the world and were genuinely disappointed to hear so much criticism. However, we were also surprised that officials compared the situation in Pakistan to that of victims of gun crime in the United States and emphasised cases of fraud rather than accepting the prima facie case of well founded fear of persecution in Pakistan.  We accept, as they put it, that they are not “Hotel California” or “ a golden ticket”  but do not believe that conditions in Carolina are comparable, as they suggested, with those in Pakistan.

We were grateful that they offered to meet with the representatives with whom we met and hope that this will lead to an improvement in understanding and procedures.

Also see:


  Parliamentary Replies from the British government on the Plight Of Pakistani Escapees

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2256):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their current assessment of the number of Pakistani Christians who have fled to Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka through fear of persecution. (HL2256)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

We gather information on this issue from external sources and have not conducted our own assessment of the numbers involved.

We continue to urge the Government of Pakistan to fulfil the human rights obligations set out in the Constitution of Pakistan and international law, including those relating to religious minorities.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 17:41.


Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2257):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the conditions in the detention centres where Pakistani Christians are detained in Bangkok, and whether the inmates include babies, children, lactating women and the infirm; what international obligations exist in regard to the detention of children in such circumstances; whether they have made representations to the UNHCR and the government of Thailand about those conditions; and if so, what response they have received. (HL2257)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

We have not conducted a specific assessment of the detention centres where Pakistani Christians are detained. However, consular officials visit prisons and Immigration Detention Centres in Bangkok regularly to carry out their consular duties with respect to British citizens. Their assessment is that conditions are generally poor and they are aware that women and children are also detained.

A number of international obligations exist in regard to the detention of children including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have raised our concerns with the Thai Minister for Justice and senior officials. The Thai authorities have shown themselves willing to cooperate on work to improve prison conditions and we are ready to share our experience and expertise. We maintain a regular dialogue with many senior prison officials to address specific concerns.

We meet the UN High Commissioner for Refugees regularly to discuss how we can assist their work, including around conditions of detention.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 17:41.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2258):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of how the conditions in detention centres where Pakistani Christians are detained in Bangkok compare with the conditions in prisons in Thailand. (HL2258)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

We have not conducted a specific assessment of the detention centres where Pakistani Christians are detained. However, consular officials visit prisons and Immigration Detention Centres in Bangkok regularly to carry out their consular duties with respect to British citizens. Their assessment is that conditions in prisons and detention centres are generally poor.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 17:36.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2259):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assistance they have been able to provide for refugees fleeing persecution in Pakistan in resolving their applications for asylum; and what is their estimate of the average time likely to elapse between an applicant lodging a claim for asylum in Bangkok and being resettled. (HL2259)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

We work closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand on a wide range of refugee issues. We do not intervene in specific cases but aim to support the rights of those fleeing persecution as a whole. From our conversations with UNHCR we understand that the time taken to assess asylum applications in Thailand varies and can be anything from a few months to a couple of years, depending on the individual circumstances of each case. We understand the majority of applicants from Pakistan who seek refugee status are successful and they are then eligible for resettlement. The time taken for resettlement varies as it is dependent on each specific situation.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 17:36.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2260):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to work with the British Council to examine ways of assisting the children of Pakistani refugees to receive schooling and educational opportunities while their asylum cases are being considered. (HL2260)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

The main problem refugees face in accessing appropriate opportunities for education in Thailand is the lack of proper documentation explaining their status. Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on refugees, therefore any documents provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are not necessarily accepted. We are working with UNHCR to support their requests to the Thai government to develop a form of documentation for refugees. This would allow refugees to access appropriate schooling and other opportunities. We work closely with the British Council in Thailand and have discussed this issue with them.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 17:35.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2261):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the risks of those Pakistani refugees who are living without legal status while their asylum claims are being assessed in Bangkok falling victim to trafficking and exploitation. (HL2261)

Tabled on: 16 September 2015

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on refugees and as such those people claiming asylum through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand have no formal legal status. Once any form of legal immigration status expires they are then deemed to be illegally in the country. Many are detained in Immigration Detention Centres awaiting deportation, or resettlement by the UNHCR should they qualify. Others live a vulnerable life as urban refugees open to trafficking and exploitation.

We continue to work closely with the UNHCR in Thailand on a wide range of refugee issues. We are in contact with UNHCR to support their requests to the Thai government to develop a form of documentation for refugees, including those of Pakistani Christian origin, to assist their legal status in Thailand.

Date and time of answer: 29 Sep 2015 at 12:59.


Lord Bates, the Home Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2312):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the findings of the report commissioned by the British Pakistan Christian Association, entitled Education, Human Rights Violations in Pakistan and the Scandal Involving UNHRC and Asylum Seekers in Thailand; and whether, in the light of this report, they plan to review the risk of the persecution of Christians in Pakistan and update their guidance document Pakistan: Christians and Christian Converts. (HL2312)

Tabled on: 17 September 2015

Lord Bates:

The Home Office will be considering the report commissioned by the British Pakistani Christian Association alongside a range of other material to make a full assessment of the situation of Christians in Pakistan, and will revise its country information and guidance if necessary.

The Home Office considers that the treatment of asylum seekers in Thailand is primarily a matter for the Thai authorities.

Date and time of answer: 05 Oct 2015 at 17:26.

International Scandal of 95 Detainees Held in one Cell – Including Children

International Scandal of 95 Detainees Held in one Cell – Including Children

Earlier today, Friday September 4th, during a visit to Bangkok’s Detention Centre for Refugees, the British Independent Peer, David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool), met Pakistani Christians who are being held there. One detainee told him that he and his six year old son are sharing a cell with 95 other men and children and is permitted to see his wife and other children, who are held elsewhere in the Detention centre, once a week for one hour.


Arriving at the Detention Centre where as many as 95 men and boys share one cell


Inhuman conditions for people whose only crime is their Faith – an International scandal.

The man, who is a Christian pastor, had fled Pakistan after threats to him and his family. There are around 4,000 Pakistani Christian men, women and children now living as illegals or being held in detention centres in the Thai capital.

Their plight is documented in the Jubilee Campaign report “Don’t Turn Them Back”:

In meetings with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) the Peer presented officials with a petition organised by Pakistani Christian leaders in Bangkok along with a dossier.


Receiving the dossier and petition from Pakistani Christian Leaders in Bangkok

This documented appalling, scandalous overcrowding; the lamentable failure to process asylum applications – some will not be considered and resolved 2018; the dismal lack of UNHCR resources and personnel; the lack of legal representation for detainees; the failure to protect women and children; inadequate and flawed translation provision; the denial of education for children and young people; meagre health care, leading to deteriorating conditions and deaths of refugees while detained; and the dismissal of evidence from Pakistan highlighting an escalation in violence against the tiny Christian minority and the well founded fear of lethal persecution.


Meeting with UNHCR officials

UNHCR officials conceded that there is “extreme overcrowding” in the detention centres and that “conditions in Thai prisons are actually better than in the detention centres.”

The Peer later met with senior British officials who have been monitoring the situation and held evidence taking sessions with a number of Pakistani Christians who are forced to live illegally because of the failure to process their applications.  


He said that “the exodus from Pakistan is driven by visceral hatred and a fanatical disregard for the rights of minorities. In a country where the brave Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, can be murdered in broad daylight, where churches are bombed, where an illiterate woman can be sentenced to death of alleged blasphemy charges, where a husband and wife can be burnt alive in front of their young children, and where there is a culture of impunity which rarely leads to those responsible being brought to justice, it is little wonder that many Christians are fleeing for their lives. It doubly compounds their suffering when the international community fails to step up to the plate in defence of those who have to endure such pitiless suffering and hardship.”    

  Pakistan Christians