The Hamhung diocesan territory stretches over 52,322 square kilometers and covers Hamkyongnam and Hamkyongbuk provinces. However, its southern part belongs to Tokwon Territorial Abbacy in North Korea.
The diocese belongs to the ecclesiastical province of Seoul which comprises Seoul archdiocese; the dioceses of Chunchon, Daejeon, Incheon, Suwon, Uijeongbu, and Wonju; the two North Korean dioceses of Hamhung and Pyongyang; and the territorial abbacy of Tokwon, also in North Korea.
The Benedictines first came to Korea in 1909 when two German Benedictine priests, including Bishop Boniface Sauer, then a priest, started work in Seoul. But tension with French missioners in Seoul made them move to Wonsan apostolic vicariate, when it was carved out of Seoul apostolic vicariate and entrusted to them by the Vatican in 1920. Father Boniface Sauer, OSB, was appointed the apostolic administrator of Wonsan in 1920 and ordained bishop the following year.
On Jan. 12, 1940, the apostolic vicariate of Wonsan was divided into Hamhung apostolic vicariate and Tokwon Territorial Abbacy. Bishop Sauer, then the apostolic vicar of Wonsan, became the first apostolic vicar of Hamhung.
However, Bishop Sauer, along with priests and nuns in the vicariate, was arrested in 1949 by communists in the North. Among them, eight priests and religious, including Bishop Sauer, were killed or died in a Pyongyang prison in 1950. In addition, five priests, 10 brothers and two nuns died in concentration camps during the Korean War (1950-1953). But 42 German priests and religious were repatriated by the communists in 1954. Since the Korean War, the North has not had a resident priest or religious.
The vicariate was elevated to a diocese on March 10, 1962, when the Korean Church hierarchy was formally established.
According to a Changchung Church leader, North Korea has some 3,000 Catholics with no resident priest. The three district councils of North Korean Catholics -- Donghae (East Sea), Sohae (West Sea), and Pyongyang -- have 500 worship places. About 200 Catholics attend Sunday Mass at Changchung Church. The Donghae district appears to cover the territories of Hamhung diocese and Tokwon Territorial Abbacy, and the northern part of Chunchon diocese in North Korea.
The (North) Korean Roman Catholics' Association was set up in June 30, 1988. Samuel Chang Jae-on has been its president since its establishment. The association published a catechism and a prayer book in 1991, and uses the Bibles sent by the Catholic Church in South Korea.
In 1960, there were a total of 800,000 people living within Hamhung diocesan territory. Recent statistics are not available.
Korean language is in use.
Hamhung diocese falls within the temperate zone and has the four distinctive seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. The diocesan territory is divided into two -- a plateau area and a coastal area. The plateau's yearly average temperature is 3-5 degrees Celsius, and annual precipitation averages some 600 millimeters. The coastal area temperature is around 10 degrees and precipitation is some 1,000 millimeters. Most of the rainfall is concentrated in the rainy months (monsoon period) of June through September.
Most of the land in Hamkyong is mineral rich. It has a mountainous region, while its coastal area has strips of plains. In the 1940s, industry was developed in the region thanks to rich forest products, marine and mineral resources, and hydroelectric power plants. However, farming was less developed due to a lack of fertile plains.