Korean Church celebrates its Christian martyrs—but have things really improved for the faithful in Korea?

On September 20th, the Korean Church celebrated Saints Andrew Kim Taegon, Priest, and Paul Chong Hasang, and their Companions, Martyrs. In all, 103 of the Korean martyrs are celebrated: they are mostly lay men and women: some married, some not; some old, some young, some even children.


The first known Korean martyrs are Paul Youn and James Kouen, who in 1791 refused to offer sacrifice on the death of their relatives. Over the next century, over ten thousand Korean Christians were executed, with great cruelty; and many others perished.

For most of this period, the church in 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 Taegǒn, the first Korean priest, secretly trained in Macao, 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. Further major persecution occurred in 1866.

In 1984, at the canonisation of the Korean Martyrs, Pope John Paul II said: 

“The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by laypeople. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these many martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today’s splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians of the ‘Church of Silence’ in the north of this tragically divided land.”

Sadly, today North Korea is still at the top of the World Watch List for Persecuted Christians for the seventeenth consecutive year. As the Church celebrates the country’s martyrs, please spare a thought for those that are today persecuted because of their faith.

Source: Universalis- About Today


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