On Wednesday morning, I woke early to prepare for the 6:30am Mass, and heard on the news that the American president was threatening to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea because the North Korean leader was threatening America and her allies. Please God, this remains only rhetoric, but our hearts go out to the innocent and the poor who are the ones who suffer when leaders rush to war.
The Mass that Wednesday morning was a memorial for Saints Andrew Kim, Paul Chong Hasang and their companions – the first Korean martyrs. The story of the establishment of the Catholic faith in Korea is awe-inspiring.
Korea was closed off from the outside world for some centuries. However, some young people were allowed to visit Peking and there came upon some books about the Christian faith. They were immediately converted. This was in the start of the 17th century. The first recorded Korean baptism was of Ni-Seoung-Houn who was baptised Peter in Peking in 1784.
The first known martyrs for the faith were Paul Youn and James Kouen who in 1791 refused to offer sacrifice on the death of their relatives.
The remarkable thing is that for most of this period Korea had no priests and was an entirely lay phenomenon. The first priest, a Frenchman, entered the country in 1836 and was beheaded three years later. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first Korean priest, secretly ordained in Macau, entered Korea in 1845 and was executed in 1846, together with his father. A lay apostle, St Paul Chong Hasang, and many others perished at the same time. This feast day celebrates these two men and 101 others who gave their lives for love of Christ.
It is estimated some 10,000 Korean Christians have been martyred for the faith.
Today the Catholic faith is burgeoning in South Korea. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
We always pray to God not to be put to the test, but sometimes our trials are the path to discovery of a remarkable new life in Christ.