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Korean assassin up for beatification

SEOUL (UCAN): Thomas An Jung-geun, a Korean freedom fighter who assassinated the first prime minister of Japan, Hirobumi Ito, who was also the first resident general of the colonial Japanese government on the Korean Peninsula, is being considered by the Preparatory Committee for Beatification and Canonisation of Seoul archdiocese for beatification.

At a symposium held on September 28 at the Catholic Centre in Seoul to discuss the possibility of canonising An, he was described as a Catholic patriot.

An shot Ito, after concealing a pistol in his lunch box, on a railway station in Harbin in northeastern China on 26 October 1909, in Harbin, northeastern China. He was later executed by the Japanese on 26 March 1910.

The assassination of Ito is generally regarded in Korea as a symbol of resistance against Japanese imperialism and colonial rule, which lasted until 1945.

For years the Catholic Church condemned the murder. However, historians view the pre-war bishops and immediate post-war ones as well as beholden to foreign powers and their condemnation of An is interpreted in this context.

The situation changed when the late Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan officiated at a Mass for An in 1993, during which he said, “An acted in righteous defence of the nation. The Catholic Church does not regard killing committed to defend the nation from unjust aggression as a crime.”

Leo Hwang Jong-ryul, representative of the Dumoolmeori Evangelisation Research Centre, said An’s actions “can be justified as God’s justice,” like those of St. Joan of Arc (1412-31), the French medieval heroine who was canonised in 1920.

He also pointed to Judith from the Old Testament, saying the Judean widow went to the camp of Holofernes, commander-in-chief of the Assyrians who had invaded Judea, and cut off his head to save her country.

He added that when people understand why she killed him, no one can condemn her act. He described An’s killing of Ito in the same way, as “an act to witness to God’s justice at great risk to his own life.”

Bishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, president of the preparatory committee, said last year that the archdiocese is ready for the beatification process of An and would review his cause soon.

‘An acted in righteous defence of the nation…’

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