Memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Taegŏn, priest and martyr and Saint Paul Chŏng Hasang, martyr, and their companions, martyrs
Most of us are quite familiar with the stories of the growth of faith in the U.S. and in Europe and South America. But stories of the introduction of our faith in Asia, though less familiar, are equally compelling. And today we celebrate the early days of Christianity in the country of Korea on this feast of St. Andrew Taegon and Companions. St. Andrew is a “new” saint for he was canonized by Pope Paul II. Though St. Andrew and his Companions are new to the liturgical calendar, they are powerful witnesses to living the Gospel in real life.
St. Andrew 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. The Korean Catholic Church is 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 a fearless witness for Christ in our everyday lives.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.