Next week Tuesday is the Feast day for Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gon, Paul Chong Ha-sang, and Companions (martyrs of Korea between 1839-1867). I was reading about them in Butler’s Lives of the Saints (a very extensive set of books which is a great resource to find out about any saint) and I thought that it was interesting that they stated that in their 1938 edition this day was listed as “BB [blessed, not canonized saints yet] Laurence Imbert and His Companions”. If you look through the list of all of those canonized in this group in1984 you will find Laurent Imbert, and Andrew Kim Tae-gon, and Paul Chong Ha-sang, along with all of the 103 martyrs who were canonized, but we single out two different ones than we used to. It is noted that this was probably due to cultural and clerical bias that, at least in this case, has been overcome in how we now refer to these Korean martyrs.
Laurent Imbert was a bishop and a missionary from France who went to Korea in 1837 and would be martyred in 1839, but one of his great legacies for the Church in Korea was the encouragement of an indigenous clergy. In 1837, Andrew Kim Tae-gon was sent with two others from Korea to Macao to complete his seminary training and would later be ordained a priest and return to Korea in 1845. Only a year later he would be arrested for his faith and then beheaded on Sept. 16, 1846.
Paul Chong Ha-sang was a layman who was martyred on Sept. 22, 1839. He was known for his great efforts to build up the Church in Korea. Making numerous trips to Beijing to try and get priests to come to Korea, even writing to Pope Pius VII to inform him of the Church in Korea. It is also noted that his father and elder brother also died for their faith earlier in the century.
The Catholic Church in Korea did not begin with missionaries, but rather with a young Korean, Yi Sung-hun, who read about the faith and would be baptized when he visited Beijing in 1784 and bring his faith back to Korea with him. He, in turn, then baptized many others and the Church in Korea began to grow despite the fact that they would be persecuted. While they would be able to practice their faith openly after a treaty between Korea and France in 1886, the Church would experience different periods of persecution in following years with the Church only existing underground in current North Korea.
Examples like this are good for us to recognize that we don’t always wait for the Pope, or a bishop, or someone else to spread the faith. Referring to the feast day by identifying two native Koreans among the martyrs by name helps us remember this. Our RCIA program to inform and welcome non-Catholics to the faith begins Tuesday, Sept. 27th at 7pm. Hopefully we recognize how fortunate we are to be able to freely invite others to share in our faith, maybe there is someone we could invite?