Andrew Kim and Companions, Missionary Martyrs
Few nations on the face of the earth have demonstrated the unique welcoming of Christ and his missionaries as displayed by the Korean people. In most lands, men and women wake up one morning to discover Christians in their midst, hearing the Good News of the Gospel for the first time because missionaries have arrived unbidden on their doorstep. In Korea, the Gospel was known and revered long before any priest dared to enter the country. Actually, the Church was invited into Korea by a convert to the faith.
The title Martyrs of Korea has been bestowed upon Andrew Kim and 102 companions who died at the hands of brutal opponents of the faith over a period of years. These martyrs represent the more than eight thousand Koreans who died in demonstration of the faith in their native land, displaying calm bravery and heroic fidelity.
The Catholic faith was brought to Korea in a unique fashion, the result of curiosity by the intellectuals of that land who were anxious to learn as much about the outside world as possible. They discovered some Christian books produced through Korea’s embassy to the Chinese capital, and one Korean, Ni-seung-houn, went to Beijing in 1784 to study Catholicism. There he was baptized Peter Ri. Returning to Korea, he converted many others. In 1791, when these Christians were suddenly viewed as foreign traitors, two of Ri’s own converts, Paul Youn and Jacques Kuen were martyred. This is hardly surprising even though it was tragic. Korea had long been the victim of foreign aggression, in particular by Japan. The Hermit Kingdom—as Korea has traditionally been termed—was concerned about alien powers overcoming the nation once again. As the Empires of Europe were at that time extending their spheres of influence across Asia, the Koreans were doubly concerned about the Christian faith, seeing it as a prelude to possible Western attack and as a threat to traditional Korean life.
Despite these obstacles, the Catholic faith endured in Korea so strongly that three years after the martyrdoms of Youn and Kuen, Father James Tsiou, a Chinese, entered the kingdom and discovered more than four thousand Catholics. He labored in the country until 1801 when Korean authorities martyred him.
Pope Leo XII (r. 1832-1829) established the Prefecture Apostolic of Korea in response to a plea from Korean Catholics who needed a greater Church structure for the growing community. In 1836, Bishop Lawrence Imbert managed to enter Korea, despite the fact that the government had banned all foreign influences and was hostile toward all non-native religions. Others followed Bishop Imbert, who labored until 1839 when a full scale persecution claimed his life and the lives of other European missionaries.
Meanwhile, Korean young men who wished to enter the priesthood were sent to Macau, which was owned by China but administered by Portugal. There they were trained and ordained. Andrew Kim Taegon was the first native priest ordained. He returned to Korea in 1845 and was martyred the following year.
Severe persecution followed, and Korean Catholics fled to the mountainous regions, where they established new parishes in exile. In 1864, the Korean government instituted a new persecution, one that claimed the lives of two bishops, six French missionaries, a Korean priest, and 8,000 Korean men, women, and children.
Some of the better known martyrs are:
Andrew Kim The first priest (shown in the image) to die for the Catholic Faith in that nation. He is sometimes called Andrew Kim Taugon. Andrew was a member of one of the highest-ranked noble families in Korea. He was educated in the faith and despite the threat of persecution; he maintained his devotion even when a government-sponsored program began in earnest in 1939 in all regions of the land.
Andrew went to Macao, where he received seminary training and was ordained. He returned to Korea to labor in the missions but was arrested by the authorities almost immediately after reaching his homeland. Joining his countrymen and European missionaries in prison, Andrew was martyred by Korean officials.
Lawrence Imbert Born in Aix-en-Provence, France, Lawrence entered the Paris Foreign Missions Society and was ordained with the express hope of serving the Church in its distant missions. His aspirations were fulfilled in 1825 when his superiors decided he was ready for the missionary work and sent him to China. There he labored for over a decade and proved himself so capable and respected a missionary that he was named titular bishop of Capse.
In 1837, he entered Korea in secret and devoted himself to the very difficult task of assisting the faith in the kingdom. Known as Bom among the Koreans, he added his strength to the growing Catholic population, eventually surrendering to Korean authorities in 1839 when the persecutions worsened. Korean Catholics were being tortured to reveal the whereabouts of foreign missionaries, and, rather than have innocent men, women, and children die to shield him, Imbert gave himself up as did Fathers Philibert Maubant and James Honore Chastan on August 11, 1839. After severe beatings, they were beheaded in Gae Nam Do, near Seoul, on September 21, 1839.
Columbia Kim A devout laywoman, Columba was martyred with her sister, Agnes, in 1839. She was twenty-six when arrested. Imprisoned, the women were pierced with red hot awls and scorched without mercy. Stripped of their clothes, they were placed in a cell with male criminals, but, to the surprise of their captors, the prisoners refused to harm them. Columba complained about such treatment for women, even Catholics—who were criminals in the eyes of the Korean government—and the authorities heeded her objection, ceasing the practice. Nevertheless, Columba and Agnes were sentenced to death and were beheaded at Seoul on September 26, 1839.
Peter Ryau A Christian Korean, Peter was only thirteen when he presented himself to the authorities as was demanded by the law of the land. For what his captors considered obstinate devotion to an outlaw creed, Peter was tortured with such excessive cruelty that his arms and legs were shredded. To demonstrate to the judges the severity of his treatment, Peter pulled away some of his torn flesh and threw it at their feet. The horrified judges were joined by an equally stricken group of on-lookers, and Peter was taken back to the prison and strangled on December 31, 1839.
Companions Others are commemorated in this glorious gathering of the blessed, including: thirteen year old Peter Yu Tae-Chol, slain for confessing the faith; Anna Pak A-gi, a simple woman who was not advanced in her doctrinal knowledge but went faithfully to death as a disciple of Christ and his Mother; John Nam Chong-sam, a high-ranked noble who served as a model of chastity, charity, and poverty until he was slain; Damien Nam Myong-hyok and Mary Yi Yon-hui, both martyred, were models of family life; and John Yi Kwong-hai, who dedicated himself in celebrating consecration to the service of the Church.
The Martyrs of Korea were canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 6, 1984, in Seoul, Korea. At the ceremony, the Holy Father declared that the Church in Korea was a community unique in the history of the Church. The pope said: “The death of the martyrs is similar to the death of Christ on the Cross, because, like his, theirs has become the beginning of new life.”
This article is an excerpt from “John Paul II’s Book of Saints” by Matthew Bunson, Margaret Bunson, Stephen Bunson, Pope John Paul II
Korean barbecue is a dish that was most likely enjoyed by many (if not all) of the Korean martyrs and is certainly one of the more popular of Korean delicacies. Here is one you can try at home. It's quite easy and so tasty.