In 1984 St John Paul II canonised Sts. Andrew and Paul and 101 other martyrs of Korea in Seoul and set their memorial on this day, 20th September. Included also among them were some priests of the Paris Society of the Foreign Missions (MEP).
Catholicism was first planted in Korea by Catholic lay Confucian scholars in the 17th ccntury who brought Catholic literature in Chinese from China. Chinese language in Korea was akin to Latin in Europe – it was the language of literature and scholarship. This was quite something as we know it was generally missionary clerics that spread the faith through the world at that time. But I feel that Korea was not the first society in which laymen first brought the Faith. There must have been many priestless places throughout the world in all of Catholic history where lay Catholics first lived and moved, only later to be sent priests and bishops.
St Andrew Kim (on our left in the picture above) was the first Korean Catholic priest and received his priestly training in Macau and the Philippines. After a little more than one year after his ordination in Shanghai in 1845 he was beheaded after tortures in Korea in 1846 at the ripe old age of 25. His last words were said to be:
This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.
St Paul Chong (on our right) was the son of Catholic parents, who were also martyred as were his brother, sister and uncle. After tortures he was paraded tied to a cross in a cart and finally beheaded in 1839 at around the young age of 45, just a little before his ordination was due.
I am always a little reserved thinking of the Korean martyrs. Their lot was most appalling and gruesome. I am not sure too many of us could endure what they accepted for their Lord. God our Father sends the necessary graces. How else to explain their extraordinary courage?
Catholics form about 10 percent of the population of Korea now. It has been a growing Church drenched in the blood of its numerous great martyrs. The Korean saints are all martyrs. Glorious St Andrew Kim, St Paul Chong and all holy martyr saints of Korea, pray for us that we may remain as faithful as you.
A little Korean video showing us about a film on the life of St Andrew Kim, gone to his eternal reward at age 25. It likens St Andrew’s short life to our Lord’s ascent of Calvary. It starts with St Andrew’s ordination in Shanghai.