In a land area of 8,931 square kilometers, the Wonju diocesan territory includes the cities of Donghae (part), Samcheok, Wonju, Taebaek and counties of Yeongwol, Jeongseon, Pyeongchang (part), Hoengseong in Gangwon-do (province) and also Jecheon-si (city) and Danyang-gun (county) in Chungcheongbuk-do (province). Wonju diocese is one of the smallest dioceses of the Korean Church in terms of Catholic population and borders the dioceses of Andong, Cheongju, Chunchon and Suwon.
The diocese belongs to the Ecclesiastical Province of Seoul which comprises Seoul archdiocese; the dioceses of Chunchon, Daejeon, Incheon, Suwon, Uijeongbu and Wonju; the North Korean dioceses of Hamhung and Pyongyang; and the Territorial Abbacy of Tokwon, also in North Korea.
Wonju diocese was carved out from Seoul archdiocese on March 22, 1965 as a suffragan diocese of Seoul Metropolitan. At that time, it had only 13 parishes and about 13,390 Catholics served by 20 priests including 11 foreign priests of the Missionary Society of St. Columban.
Wonju diocese has several holy shrines including Baeron, where early Catholics built "Christian villages" while fleeing persecution.
The Baeron shrine is one of the most famous and historical shrines for Korean Catholics. It is located deep in a mountainous area where the early Korean Catholics hid to escape the persecution of 1791. Here, they built six "Christian villages," kept their faith strong, and lived as farmers and pottery workers.
What makes the shrine famous is a cave in which a martyr wrote a long letter to the French government and to the Catholic Church there, describing the persecutions in Korea and asking for help. The letter was intercepted by the government before it was sent to France, and the author killed.
A tomb of Father Thomas Choi Yang-up, the second Korean priest, who was called "martyr of sweat," is also famous. The priest walked long distances to make pastoral visits for 12 years after his ordination in 1849 in Shanghai, China. He died of fatigue and a contagious disease in what is now Andong diocese.
The Baeron Seminary is the first theologate in the Korean Catholic Church. It was established in 1856 and is now the Seoul Major Seminary.
In Wonju diocesan jurisdiction, the population is 929,693 at the end of 2006. (Some 1.9 percent of the whole population 49,624,269 in the country) Most residents are ethnic Koreans.
Standard Korean is in use. English, a mandatory subject in schools, can be spoken and understood in tourist areas. All traffic signs are in English as well as Korean.
Wonju diocese falls within the temperate zone and has the four distinctive seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. The yearly average temperature of Wonju is 10.8 degrees Celsius. The annual precipitation in the region averages 1,291 millimeters. Most of the rainfall is concentrated in the rainy months of June through September.
Wonju is located in a central area of the Korean peninsula and is in Gangwon province, one of highest mountainous areas in South Korea. The eastern region of the province comprises scenic coastal strips.