19 September 2016

The Holy Martyrs of Korea


On September 20, we celebrate the Memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon, priest and martyr, and Saint Paul Chong Hasang, martyr, and their companions, the martyrs of Korea.

The Catholic faith came to Korea during the Japanese invasion in 1592 when some Koreans were baptized, probably by Christian Japanese soldiers. Evangelization was difficult because Korea refused all contact with the outside world except for an annual journey to Peking to pay taxes. On one of these occasions, around 1777, Christian literature obtained from Jesuits in China led educated Korean Christians to study. A home Church began. When a Chinese priest managed to enter secretly about twelve years later, he found 4,000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were 10,000 Catholics. Religious freedom didn’t come until 1883.

In the meantime, there were horrible persecutions against the Christians. The major religion in Korea consisted of ancestor worship, and this was considered to be a cornerstone of their society. If anyone refused to take part in ancestor worship, they were considered traitors to the country, and would be killed. Obviously, Catholics would not be able to be part of that, and as a result, more than 8,000 of them were executed, and in unspeakable ways. Most of them were simple country people, whose names were known only to those closest to them. 103 of them were canonized by name, by Pope John Paul II in 1984.

O God, who wast pleased to increase thy adopted children in all the world, and who made the blood of thy Martyrs Saint Andrew Kim Tae-goˇn and his Companions a most fruitful seed of Christians: grant that we may be defended by their help and profit always from their example; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.