Print Version    Email to Friend
May it be done on earth as it is in heaven

The Korean Church is celebrating 230 years of history. We are talking here about the history of a Church that started in a very particular manner.
To learn or hear that the Christian faith was introduced in one place thanks to the efforts of zealous and tireless missionaries, that is a common story.
But the Catholic faith came to be known in Korea thanks to courageous lay people who learned about it and devoted themselves to proclaiming it to their fellows, trusting that there was something particular to this faith that was worth sharing.
And little by little, the Church organised itself through gatherings in private homes long before the new converts could get help from a priest. It is this Church that started without priests that we celebrate, a Church that was first built by lay people that we honour today.
Pope John Paul II praised it in these terms. “Yearning for an ever greater share in the Christian faith, your ancestors sent one of their own in 1784 to Peking, where he was baptised. From this good seed was born the first Christian community in Korea, a community unique in the history of the Church by reason of the fact that it was founded entirely by lay people.
This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could already boast of some 10,000 martyrs. The years 1791, 1801, 1827, 1839, 1846 and 1866 are forever signed with the holy blood of your martyrs and engraved in your hearts” (Mass for the canonisation of Korean Martyrs, Youido Place, Seoul, 6 May 1984).
Honouring them today invites us to think about their determination to choose Jesus even though the realities of their time did not allow things to go as smoothly as they may have for them.
The choice to become Christian back then was not an easy one, since such a faith was a betrayal of the Confucian spirit that had a deep influence at that time.
Many of the followers of the new doctrine were put to death in ways that served as a message to those who would dare not to apostatise. But their courage not to back off was something that touched all of us.
I say all of us because I was among those who were invited by the archdiocese of Seoul to attend a special pilgrimage to Korea and Rome to commemorate the foundation of the Korean Church.
Together with other young people and youth ministers from 15 Asian countries, we had this unique opportunity to come to know those martyrs in a closer way, visiting places and neighbourhoods they lived in, without failing to mention the beautiful shrines built to pay them decent tribute.
Bishop Chung Soon-Taek ocd, the auxiliary from Seoul, told us that the invitation was sent to the young people to mark the event with a special imprint.
“Usually,” he said, “during events such as this one, people will think about inviting cardinals, bishops, ambassadors and other high-ranking officials. But we thought about inviting the youth because they too have something to offer to the Church, their energy, their thoughts. They are the future of the Church.”
What a good motivation for the young people to be inspired by the martyrs! His words made me recall the theme of the Synod of Bishops on Youth for 2018.
In Korea, we were marked by the courage of those martyrs.
Their courage related not only to their determination not to back off in front of trials and evident, terrible death, but also to the courage required to learn something new, the faith, and to bring it back home although the pioneers were fully aware of the dangers such a break-up could bring to them.
They trusted more in the love of God than the fear of men. And we heard what recompense many of them received: rejection and death.
Differences and betrayals affected the community as well, some of them due to the administration of and the validity of the sacraments, the cult of the ancestors, the funeral rites and so on.
But they managed to keep the fire of love alive in the community and that determination was central in many a sharing that we heard from the young people during our pilgrimage.
And many of us asked themselves this very question, “What would be my attitude if I were in front of such challenges? Would I continue to bear witness to Jesus, or I would choose to save my life, meaning walk away from the faith?” Open-ended question!
Another fact is that the Korean Catholics are happy about their martyrs and they are proud of them.
These martyrs serve as role models, the people that inspire them to live the faith with courage in the middle of today’s challenges.
The official number of those who suffered martyrdom will probably be known only by God himself, but their lives were not a waste.
We visited a shrine to Unknown Martyrs, meaning that the Korean Church did not forget about them even though their names are not known to us today.
Their martyrdom is what made the Korean Church grow in faith and today, they too send missionaries into the world to share about the good news of salvation. Yes, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Tertullian was right in writing down these words for us, implying that the martyrs’ willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others. Bishop Cornelius Sim, from Brunei Darussalam, often used these words to remind us about the meaning of martyrdom.
After four days of pilgrimage in Korea, the whole delegation embarked on a trip to Rome to attend what we could call the main event of the pilgrimage, which was the exhibition called On earth as it is in heaven about the history of the Korean Church.
The exhibition, held at the Vatican, was a display of manuscripts, pictures, artefacts and other religious items belonging to the early Korean believers.
It also mentioned the progress that the Church made from the beginning until recent years; a history full of ups and downs, a Church marked by a touching history.
In his homily during the Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Andrew Cardinal Yeom, from Seoul, thanked God for the lives of those brave men and women and asked the congregation to always learn about the courage that characterised those martyrs when they met with atrocities.
Assisi was another important part of our Roman tour. Yes, you cannot talk about Assisi without mentioning St. Francis and St. Clare. A lot has been already said about their lives.
And we already know that Francis too suffered rejection and misunderstanding.However, he chose to keep the call alive in him and his determination was also enough to influence many lives down the years.
He was a kind of living martyr that went against some ideas of the time, but today his life serves as an example. His life is a school, you could say.
To finish this sharing, here are some questions. How is the testimony of the Korean Martyrs affecting our lives today?
In a world where faith tends to be seen as outdated by some or many, what is our attitude? Can the young people rejoice in their faith in the middle of so many other choices?

Father Dominique Mukonda CICM
Diocesan Youth Commission