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Many people have died to keep their Christian faith in Korea


By Fr Patrick McCafferty

The current war of words and apparent battle of wills between US President Trump and Kim Jung Un of North Korea is a cause for concern and unease for many around the world.

We might, therefore, pause and reflect this weekend on the story of the Christian faith in Korea - north and south. At present, there about 12m Christians, Catholic and Protestant, in South Korea - about 30% of the population - Confucianism, Buddhism and Shamanism making up the rest.

In North Korea, under the Kim regime, atheism is imposed by the State and the Church is outlawed (the Church is very much underground), persecuted and suffering greatly. Kim Jong Un pays lip service to religious freedom but it is a facade.

On September 20 each year the Catholic Church universally marks the commemoration of St Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and their companions, a host of martyrs of all ages, who laid down their lives for the Gospel in Korea.

The Christian faith developed slowly in Korea because the country's authorities were intent on keeping all foreign influence at bay.

Nevertheless, Japanese Christians had brought the faith to Korea in the 16th century and some of the natives had been baptised. These Korean Christians kept the faith, without priests and without mass and the sacraments.

When missionaries arrived again, in the 19th century, they found that some of the Koreans were already faithful Catholics, who had baptised their children, taught them to pray and to live a Christian life.

The entire history of the Church in Korea is marked by immense suffering and severe persecutions. St Andrew Kim was the first native Korean to be ordained a priest. His great-grandfather had died in prison for the faith in 1814 and his father had been martyred for the faith in 1839. Andrew was tortured and beheaded in 1846. St Paul Chong was a married layman whose father also had been martyred. He too faced torture and death, refusing to renounce Christ.

St Andrew Kim was arrested in June 1846 after a failed attempt to smuggle French missionaries into Korea. After a prolonged period of torture and deprivation, the young priest was sentenced to death. Before his execution, he addressed those gathered.

H said: "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."

We celebrate the faithful witness of St Andrew Kim and St Paul Chong, along with a host of others - men and women of all ages - also children, who laid down their lives for Christ, refusing to deny Him and His Church.

Let us pray for Christians, Catholics and Protestants, in North Korea today, who live under the brutal dictatorship of Kim Jong Un, who suffer for their fidelity to Jesus Christ.

Let us ask the intercession of the Korean martyrs for their fellow countrymen and women and for peace to prevail in our world.

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