September 19, 2017

Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and Companions, Korean Martyrs

Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon and Paul Chong Hasang

September 20th, the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon, Saint Paul Chong Hasang and companions, courageous 19th century Korean martyrs. The beginning of the Catholic Church in Korea was unusual. Rather than resulting from the efforts of ordained missionaries, the faith was established in that country by the work — and martyrdom — of lay converts.

For most of its history, Korea was an isolated place, rejecting contact with much of the outside world. The one exception was China, and even that was limited to the paying of taxes once a year to Beijing. However, in other ways, particularly culturally, Korea was strongly influenced by this larger and stronger neighbor to its North. Some of that influence included the introduction of Christianity.

The Jesuits, who had already established a foothold in China, managed to get some Christian literature into Korea, and the more educated members of the society began to study the faith on their own. Through their efforts, a home Church began to flourish. By 1836, when missionaries were finally able to get into the country, they found a faithful, dynamic community of Catholics numbering some 4,000 persons — none of whom had ever seen a priest. Within 10 years, the number of Catholics had increased to over 10,000 adherents.

The Korean government greeted this new faith with hostility and disdain. There were several severe persecutions that took place, particularly in the years 1839, 1846 and 1866, resulting in the deaths of some 8,000 martyrs. Among those killed in the purge of 1839 were the first native-born Korean priest, Fr. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang, a lay catechist and their fellow companions.

Father Taegon was born into a noble Korean family in 1822. Both his parents were Christian converts, and his father was martyred for the faith when Andrew was 15. His father’s devotion combined with the example of other martyrs inspired the young man to become a priest. Andrew left Korea to pursue studies at a seminary in Macao, China, and was ordained six years later in Shanghai.

The Catholic community there greeted his return to Korea with great enthusiasm. Members managed to sneak Fr. Taegon past the border patrol. Sadly, he was not able to serve the people for very long. In 1846, during the Joseon Dynasty, Christianity was severely repressed, and Fr. Taegon was among the thousands who suffered brutal torture and martyrdom rather than renounce his faith.

Hasang, whose parents converted to Christianity, became a leader of his local faith community after his father and older brother were martyred. As a catechist, he wrote the first catechism for the Korean Church. He composed a document entitled "Sand-Je-SangSu," a work of apologetics that explained to the Korean government what Christianity was and why it was no threat to the Korean people. He was martyred in 1839. Saint John Paul II canonized him, Fr. Taegon and 101 other Korean martyrs in 1984. Martyrs of Korea, faithful to the end, pray for us.

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