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Unveiling the road of martyrs of Korea

The Vatican has recognised the Road of Martyrs in Seoul, South-Korea as an official pilgrimage site, the first one in Asia. This is an important place in the history of the Church in Korea given that 44 saints and 27 others that have been declared blessed, sacrificed lives on this road. On September 14, there was a Mass at the sanctuary of Seosomun—the monument that commemorates the Korean martyrs. 


Ashley Ho, a youth coordinator from the Diocesan English Youth had joined the Korea Pilgrimage Week together with Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, the bishop of Hong Kong, and Father Dominique Makunda, Director of the Diocesan Youth Commission. 

Banners and posters, with 2018 Korea Pilgrimage Week, were hung up everywhere in Seoul’s city centre. Participants from different Asian countries gathered in Seoul, to witness the Vatican’s recognition of Seoul’s pilgrimage route. 
Alongside with 2014’s Asian Youth Day, there was also the beatification of the Korean martyrs who lived in strong belief of the Catholic church. Before the establishment of Korean Catholics, the nation was ruled under Confucianism by the Joseon Dynasty. Approaching the end of the 17th Century, the dynasty began to weaken and Catholicism started to leak through the cracks of the totalitarian society. 
During the 18th Century, the Catholic Church was established, but thousands of anonymous Catholics in the first hundred years of the establishment, suffered blood-shedding persecutions and heart-wrenching tortures. From the elderly to children, they were shown no mercy by the officials. They were hung by ropes from a tree, drowned in a lake by bare hands and they were decapitated, not by swords, but by being tugged against a stone. 
Seoul’s pilgrimage tracks the trails of the martyrs’ blood and reveals the glory of the freedom earned by them. 
Taking part of the Asian Catholic Youths, our first day was joint together with our leaders. We began our pilgrimage with a visit to two local shrines. Solmoe Shrine is the birthplace of Korea’s first priest, St. Andrew Kim Jong-han. It was not only home of the pioneer priest, but also home to a few generations above as well, who were also ordained as martyrs. 
Haemi Shrine consists is the grave of thousands of anonymous Catholics who were executed as state offenders. The torture items still remain present in the exact locations in which known and unknown martyrs were persecuted. For each rope wrapped around the necks of these innocents and for each breath taken away, they did it for their trust in God. 
The following day, we stayed closer inside the city. We paid a visit to a few more shrines, Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine, is also known as the decapitating hill and Danggogae Martyrs’ Shrine, where we learned about the Saints from Korea. 
These shrines gave a deeper explanation of where the Catholic believers were rooted from and how it spread throughout the nation. We were told the story of Blessed Mary Yi-Seong-rye, who was just beatified and not crowned a saint yet because of one of her betrayals against God, when she lost one of her youngest son during her torture in prison. 
Today, Korea’s pilgrimage in the city of Seoul is officially recognised by the Vatican. We celebrated with local officials, archbishops, bishops and priests from a variety of nations and other Asian youths. 
Over dinners and washroom breaks, the Asians also got to familiarise with each other about the pastoral work they are involved in and how we act with our spiritual beliefs. 
The connection among us rapidly formed along the days, keeping each and everyone of us involved in our daily work and prayers, even after the celebration. 
Even though the week was fulfilled with dark tortures, each visit reminded us that, beyond the blood-shedding moments, there will always be glory granted upon us from God. 
                              Ashley Ho

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