Memorial of Saint Andrew Taegon and Companions
I am reminding you, brothers and sisters,
of the Gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you….
With these words from our first reading today, St. Paul is urging the Corinthians to resist the judgment and condemnation of the culture around them, but rather to be faithful to the Gospel that they have received. These words of St. Paul encouraged the Corinthians and the many generations that came after them to stand with Christ no matter the cost.
These are powerful words and words that were certainly taken to heart by the men and women we celebrate today, St. Andrew Taegon and his many Companions. Perhaps this St. Andrew is a “new” saint in your awareness. He was canonized by Pope Paul II only in 1984. So, these saints are new to the liturgical calendar. But they are worth remembering and celebrating because they are fellow Christians who are powerful witnesses to living the Gospel in real life.
St. Andrew is tied closely to the foundation of Christianity in Korea. He wasn’t the first Korean Christian by a long shot. By the time he was born in 1821, Christianity had been growing in Korea for about fifty years. It is believed that Christianity had been brought into Korea by some Christian Japanese soldiers in the latter part of the 18th century. The Christian Japanese soldiers baptized the first Korean Christians and the Christian community began to grow quickly. By the time the first foreign priest arrived in Korea in 1836 there was already a substantial Christian community flourishing there. It’s the only known Catholic Christian community that first developed completely from the witness and work of lay Christians.
The rulers in Korea were not at all pleased to have this foreign religion thriving in their country. At first they just discouraged it but soon enough outlawed this practice and began to actively persecute anyone who took it up. As Christians were arrested, tortured and put to death the Church quickly moved underground
St. Andrew’s parents, members of the Korean nobility, were an important part of that early community and secretly remained faithful to their life with Christ. Andrew was baptized at fifteen and soon expressed his desire to become a priest. He traveled to Macau to attend the seminary and was ordained in 1845. He was the first Korean to become a priest and returned home shortly after his ordination to help organize the Church and bring the sacraments to the faithful. He ministered in Korea only a year before he was arrested and put to death.
There were intense persecutions of Christians in Korea in 1839, 1846, 1866 and 1867 and 103 Christians were martyred for their faith. We celebrate these heroic martyrs on this day.
May their faith and courage inspire us to live our lives faithful to the Gospel and have the strength to be fearless witnesses for Christ in our everyday lives.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.