Tomorrow we celebrate a few of my personal favorite Saints, and they are not commonly talked about, so I thought I’d chime in a bit in hopes to increase devotion to these incredible men by focusing on their leader, St. Kim, as well as share just a smidgen of the incredible story of the conversion of Korea. It is truly unique, I have heard nothing like it anywhere.
I’ll start with the punchline, and not beat around the bush.
Koreans brought the Gospel to Korea. Not missionaries, not heroic travelers from far off lands, the Koreans are the only people in history to have gone out and brought it back home on their own. They are the ONLY lay founded Catholic Church in the entire world.
Imagine you are sent as a missionary to some far flung place that you are certain has never heard the Gospel, only to find when you get there, a full and thriving Catholic community, without priests, worshiping God anyways. They finally smuggled in a priest from China, but this drew the typical governmental ire, and soon a full scale persecution was underway.
Andrew Kim Tong was the first Korean priest, his father a martyr; he spent much of his youth traveling outside Korea in the Philippines and in China, and after being ordained in China returned home to minister to his native people. Confucianism was still very much in rule, and he was arrested and killed for have Christian texts in Korean, and for trying to smuggle in more priests for the fledgeling Church. Many died along with them, as often happens during the birth of Christianity into new lands, 102 of them were beatified by St. John Paul II during his visit to Korea.
Something about St. Kim Taegon really speaks to me. I have had several Korean students over the years, and have time and again shared his amazing story only to find they have never heard it. Korea is something special, a different kind of place, a place that reached out into the world, found Christ, and brought Him back with them. St. Kim is part of that great heritage, a heritage of which every Korean should have a deep welling of pride and patriotism. He is the symbol of just how special they are.
“This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him” -St. Andrew Kim Taegon’s last known words