The Korean Martyrs

The passion and perseverance that fuelled the growth of the Catholic Church in Korea can teach us all a lesson in faith.

The first Church founded entirely by lay people, the Catholic Church in Korea dates back to the 18th century, when a Korean travelled to China in 1784 to be baptized.

Remarkably, the Korean Church did not have its own priest until more than a decade after its inception, and the first two priests stayed only briefly, yet the Church continued to grow in spite of a hostile environment of rampant persecution.

Less than two decades after the first baptism, the Church in Korea numbered more than ten thousand members. Membership came at a brutal cost, however. In its first century, the Church in Korea saw more than ten thousand people martyred. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, the first Korean-born priest and patron saint of Korea, was beheaded in 1846, a mere 13 months after he was ordained.  Kim, along with Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, 98 other martyred Koreans and three French missionaries, were canonized by Pope John Paul II in June 1984, with September 20th their feast day.

Religious freedom came in 1883; today, the Church in Korea numbers about five million members.

Echoes of that devotion can be seen in the growth of the Korean community in the Canadian Church. Of the estimated quarter-million Koreans and people of Korean descent living in Canada, 25% are Catholics.

While the bulk of Korean immigration to Canada has taken place recently, the Korean community has blossomed in churches across the country.

“The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the Martyrs,” Pope John Paul II noted during the canonization of Sts. Andrew Tae-gŏn Paul Chŏng Ha-sang  and companions. As the Korean presence in local parishes grows, the Church in Canada also benefits from the fruits borne by martyrs a world away.

-Catherine Mulroney, Editor of Living with Christ, Canada’s companion for praying and living the Eucharist.

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