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Territorial Abbacy of Tokwon

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Territorial Abbacy of Tokwon
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The Tokwon Territorial Abbacy covers Wonsan city, and Anbyeon, Gowon, Tokwon and Muncheon counties. All these places are in Hamkyongnam province in North Korea.

The abbacy belongs to the ecclesiastical province of Seoul which comprises Seoul archdiocese, the dioceses of Chunchon, Daejeon, Incheon, Suwon, Uijeongbu, and Wonju, and the two North Korean dioceses of Hamhung and Pyongyang.

The Benedictines first came to Korea in 1909 when two German Benedictine priests, including Bishop Boniface Sauer, then a priest, started work in Seoul. In 1913, the Benedictine monastery in Seoul was elevated to an abbey. But tension with French missioners in Seoul made the Benedictines move to Wonsan apostolic vicariate, when it was carved out of Seoul apostolic vicariate and entrusted to them by the Vatican in 1920. Father Sauer was appointed the apostolic vicar of Wonsan in 1920 and ordained bishop next year.

In 1927, the Benedictines moved to the new monastery in Tokwon in the North. They also opened a seminary in the compound of the monastery, which received seminarians from the South when Seoul and Daegu seminaries in the South were closed in 1942 and 1943 respectively by the Japanese colonialists.

On Jan. 12, 1940, the apostolic vicariate of Wonsan was divided into Hamhung apostolic vicariate and Tokwon Territorial Abbacy. And Bishop Sauer, then the apostolic vicar of Wonsan, became the first abbot of Tokwon Territorial Abbacy and the first apostolic administrator of Hamhung apostolic vicariate.

But Bishop Sauer along with priests and nuns in Tokwon and Hamhung were arrested or dispersed in 1949 by communists in the North. Among them, eight priests and religious, including Bishop Sauer, were killed or died in a prison of Pyongyang in 1950. Furthermore, five priests, 10 brothers and two nuns died in concentration camps during the Korean War (1950-1953). Forty-two 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 Benedictine order was resettled in Waegwan in the South in 1952, under the leadership of Monsignor Timothy Bitterli, who was appointed apostolic administrator of Hamhung apostolic vicariate and Tokwon Territorial Abbacy by the Vatican. The Waegwan Benedictine order was approved in 1955 and elevated to abbey in 1964 by the Vatican.

According to a leader of Changchung Church in Pyongyang, the only Catholic Church in the North, North Korea has some 3,000 Catholics without a resident priest and the three district councils of North Korean Catholics -- Donghae (East Sea), Sohae (West Sea), Pyongyang -- have 500 worship places. About 200 Catholics attend Sunday Mass at the 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 on 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 that the Catholic Church in South Korea sent.


Korean language is in use.


Tokwon Territorial Abbacy falls within the temperate zone and has the four distinctive seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. The territory's yearly average temperature is around 10 degrees Celsius 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 Hamkyongnam, including the territorial abbacy, is mineral rich. Its coastal area has strips of plains. In 1940s, the industry was developed in the region thanks to rich forest products, marine and mineral resources, and hydroelectric power plants, but farming was less developed due to lack of fertile plains.

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