L'Osservatore Romano published an article this week on the apostolic work of the Maryknoll priest Gerard Hammond, a missionary in North Korea who is following in the footsteps of American Bishop Patrick Byrne, who served in Korea and Japan during and after World War II.
Father Gerard Hammond has visited North Korea 30 times to bring humanitarian aid. He is a member of the delegation that the Eugene Bell Foundation sends to the country two times a year to distribute medicine to fight tuberculosis.
Going to North Korea is “like participating in a pilgrimage, because that land is holy,” Father Hammond said. He said his inspiration has been the work of Bishop Patrick Byrne.
While still a priest in Japan, Father Byrne was the director of the Maryknoll mission in Kyoto. During World War II, despite being from the United States, the government allowed him to continue his apostolic work. He later became a mediator between the U.S. and Japan in order to prevent violence in the Japanese territories occupied by U.S. forces.
With the approval of then-Archbishop Pietro Doi of Tokyo, Father Byrne contacted U.S. troops who were aboard the U.S.S. Missouri that was heading towards the Japanese capital. He urged the Americans to exercise restraint, “a message the U.S. troops heeded as they took control of the territory without a single shot,” L’Osservatore reported.
As bishop, Byrne was arrested in 1949 in Korea. He died from pneumonia in 1950 at the age of 73 near the Yalu River, during “the march of death” of prisoners who were deported after the military occupation of Seoul.