March 24, 2014

Korean Martyrs

Feast Day : 20 September

The Korean Martyrs were the victims of religious persecution against Catholic Christians during the 19th century in Korea. At least 8,000 adherents to the faith were killed during this period, 103 of whom were canonized en masse in May 1984. Paul Yun Ji-Chung and 123 companions were declared "Venerable" on February 7, 2014, and on August 15, 2014, they will be beatified by Pope Francis during the Asian Youth Day in Daejeon, South Korea.

At the end of the 18th century Korea was a country ruled by the Joseon Dynasty. It was a society based on Confucianism with its hierarchical, class relationships. There was a small minority of privileged scholars and nobility while the majority were commoners paying taxes, providing labour and manning the military. Below them was the slave class. Even though it was scholars who first introduced the Gospel to Korea it was the ordinary people who flocked to the new religion. The new believers called themselves "Chonju kyo udul" literally "friends of the teaching of God of Heaven". The term "friends" was the only term in the Confucian understanding of relationships which implied equality.


During the early 17th century, Christian literature written in Chinese was imported from China to Korea. On one of these occasions, around 1777, Christian literature obtained from Jesuits in China led educated Korean Christians to study. Although no Koreans were converted to Catholicism by these books until the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the ideas of the Catholic priests espoused in them were debated and denounced as heterodox as early as 1724.

A home Church began. When a Chinese priest managed to enter secretly a dozen years later, he found 4,000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. The dynamic Catholic communities were led almost entirely by educated lay people of the aristocratic classes, as they were the only ones who could read the books that were written in Hanja.

The Christian community sent a delegation on foot to Beijing, 750 miles away, to ask the Bishop of Beijing to send them bishops and priests. Eventually, two Chinese priests were sent, but their ministry was short-lived, and another forty years passed before the Paris Foreign Mission Society began its work in Korea with the arrival of Father Mauban in 1836. Paul Chong Hasang, Augustine Yu Chin-gil and Charles Cho Shin-chol had made several visits to Beijing in order to find ways of introducing missionaries into Korea. Since the persecution of 1801, there had been no priest to care for the Christian community. Serious dangers awaited the missionaries who dared to enter Korea. The bishops and priests who confronted this danger, as well as the lay Christians who aided and sheltered them, were in constant threat of losing their lives.

Bishop Laurent Imbert and ten other French missionaries were the first Paris Foreign Mission Society priests to enter Korea and to embrace a different culture. During the daytime, they kept in hiding, but at night they travelled about on foot attending to the spiritual needs of the faithful and administering the sacraments. The first Korean priest, Andrew Kim Taegon, succeeded in entering Korea as a missionary. However, thirteen months after his ordination he was put to death by the sword at the age of 26.

The Catholics gathering in one place with no distinction on the basis of class were perceived to undermine 'hierarchical Confucianism', the ideology which held the State together. The new learning was seen to be subversive of the establishment and this gave rise to systematic suppression and persecution. The suffering the believers endured is well known through official documents which detail trials and the sentences. There were four major persecutions - the last one in 1866, at which time there were only 20,000 Catholics in Korea. 10,000 had died. Those figures give a sense of the enormous sacrifice of the early Korean Catholics. (Other Christian denominations did not enter Korea until sometime later). The vast majority of the martyrs were simple lay people, including men and women, married and single, old and young.

More than 10,000 martyrs died in persecutions which extended over more than one hundred years. Of all these martyrs, seventy-nine were beatified in 1925. They had died in the persecutions of 1839 (Ki-hae persecution), 1846 (Pyong-o persecution) and 1866 (Pyong-in persecution). In addition, twenty-four martyrs were beatified in 1968. All together, 103 martyrs were canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 6, 1984. In a break with tradition, the ceremony did not take place in Rome, but in Seoul. Their feast day is September 20. Currently, Korea has the 4th largest number of saints in the Catholic world.

From the last letter of Andrew Kim Taegŏn to his parish as he awaited martyrdom with a group of twenty persons:

My dear brothers and sisters, know this: Our Lord Jesus Christ upon descending into the world took innumerable pains upon and constituted the holy Church through his own passion and increases it through the passion of its faithful....Now, however, some fifty or sixty years since the holy Church entered into our Korea, the faithful suffer persecutions again. Even today persecution rages, so that many of our friends of the same faith, among whom I am myself, have been thrown into prison....Since we have formed one body, how can we not be saddened in our innermost hearts? How can we not experience the pain of separation in our human faculties?

However, as Scripture says, God cares for the least hair of our heads, and indeed he cares with his omniscience; therefore, how can persecution be considered as anything other than the command of God, or his prize, or precisely his punishment?...We are twenty here, and thanks be to God all are still well. If anyone is killed, I beg you not to forget his family. I have many more things to say, but how can I express them with pen and paper? I make an end to this letter. Since we are now close to the struggle, I pray you to walk in faith, so that when you have finally entered into Heaven, we may greet one another. I leave you my kiss of love.
In the early 1870s, Father Claude-Charles Dallet compiled a comprehensive history of the Catholic Church in Korea, largely from the manuscripts of martyred Bishop Antoine Daveluy. The Korean Martyrs were known for the staunchness, sincerity, and number of their converts. Protestant missionary E.H.Parker observed that "Coreans, unlike Chinese and Japanese, make the most staunch and devoted converts....

According to Ernst Oppert, An observation, founded upon many years' experience, may not be out of place here, and that is, that among all Asiatic nationalities there is probably none more inclined to be converted to Christianity than the Corean....He becomes a Christian from conviction, not from any mercenary motives. Bishop and martyr Simeon Francois Berneux wrote, The Corean possesses the most perfect dispositions for receiving the faith. Once convinced, he accepts and attaches himself to it, in spite of all sacrifices it may cost him.

Rev. Francis Goldie stated, Certainly few countries, if any, have to tell of such a painful apostolate, or of one which has had such success. Japan alone in later days can boast a martyrology at all to compare with that of Corea in the number of the slain, or in the heroism of those who died for Christ.

Individual martyrs

Stela to the members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society who were martyred in Korea.

Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and 101 Companions
  • Peter Yi Hoyong
  • Protasius Chong Kukbo
  • Magdalena Kim Obi
  • Anna Pak Agi
  • Agatha Yi Sosa
  • Agatha Kim Agi
  • Augustine Yi Kwanghon
  • Barbara Han Agi
  • Lucia Pak Huisun
  • Damian Nam Myonghyok
  • Peter Kwon Tugin
  • Joseph Chang Songjib
  • Barbara Kim
  • Barbara Yi
  • Rosa Kim Nosa
  • Martha Kim Songim
  • Teresa Yi Maeim
  • Anna Kim Changgum
  • John Baptist Yi Kwangnyol
  • Magdalena Yi Yonghui
  • Lucia Kim Nusia
  • Maria Won Kwiim
  • Maria Pak Kunagi
  • Barbara Kwon Hui
  • Johannes Pak Hujae
  • Barbara Yi Chonghui
  • Maria Yi Yonhui
  • Agnes Kim Hyochu
  • Francis Choe Kyonghwan
  • Laurent-Marie-Joseph Imbert
  • Pierre-Philibert Maubant
  • Jacques-HonorΓ© Chastan
  • Paul Chong Hasang
  • Augustine Yu Chinkil
  • Magdalena Ho Kyeim
  • Sebastian Nam Igwan
  • Kim Iulitta
  • Agatha Chon Kyonghyob
  • Charles Cho Shinchol
  • Ignatius Kim Chejun
  • Magdalena Pak Pongson
  • Perpetua Hong Kimju
  • Columba Kim Hyoim
  • Lucia Kim Kopchu
  • Catherine Yi
  • Magdalena Cho
  • Peter Yu Taechol
  • Cecilia Yu Sosa
  • Barbara Cho Chungi
  • Magdalena Han Yongi
  • Peter Choe Changhub
  • Benedicta Hyong Kyongnyon
  • Elizabeth Chong Chonghye
  • Barbara Ko Suni
  • Magdalena Yi Yongdok
  • Teresa Kim
  • Agatha Yi
  • Stephan Min Kukka
  • Andrew Chong Hwagyong
  • Paul Ho Hyob
  • Augustine Pak Chongwon
  • Peter Hong Pyongju
  • Magdalena Son Sobyok
  • Agatha Yi Kyongi
  • Maria Yi Indok
  • Agatha Kwon Chini
  • Paul Hong Yongju
  • Johannes Yi Munu
  • Barbara Choe Yongi
  • Anthony Kim Songu
  • Andrew Kim Taegon
  • Charles Hyon Songmun
  • Peter Nam Kyongmun
  • Lawrence Han Ihyong
  • Susanna U Surim
  • Joseph Im Chipek
  • Teresa Kim Imi
  • Agatha Yi Kannan
  • Catherina Chong Choryom
  • Peter Yu Chongnyul
  • SimΓ©on-FranΓ§ois Berneux
  • Simon-Marie-Just Ranfer de BreteniΓ¨res
  • Pierre-Henri Dorie
  • Bernard-Louis Beaulieu
  • John Baptist Nam Chongsam
  • John Baptist Chon Changun
  • Peter Choe Hyong
  • Mark Chong Uibae
  • Alexis U Seyong
  • Marie-Nicolas-Antoine Daveluy
  • Martin-Luc Huin
  • Pierre Aumaitre
  • Joseph Chang Chugi
  • Lucas Hwang Soktu
  • Thomas Son Chason
  • Bartholomew Chong Munho
  • Peter Cho Hwaso
  • Peter Son Sonji
  • Peter Yi Myongso
  • Joseph Han Wonso
  • Peter Chong Wonji
  • Joseph Cho Yunho
  • Johannes Yi Yunil

Paul Yunji Chung and 123 companions
  • Paul Yun Ji Chung
  • Jacob Gwon Sangyeon
  • Peter Won Sijang
  • Paul Yun Yuil
  • Matthew Choe Ingil
  • Sabas Jihwang
  • Paul Yi Dogi
  • Francis Bang
  • Lawrence Pak Chwideuk
  • Jacob Won Sibo
  • Peter Jeong Sanpil
  • Francis Bae Gwangyeom
  • Martin In Eonmin
  • Francis Yi Bohyeon
  • Peter Jo Yongsam
  • Barbara Simagi
  • Johannes Choe Changhyeon
  • Augustine Jeong Yakjong
  • Francis Xavier Hong Gyoman
  • Thomas Choe Pilgong
  • Luke Hong Nakmin
  • Marcellinus Choe Changju
  • Martin Yi Jungbae
  • Johannes Won Gyeongdo
  • Jacob Yun Yuo
  • Barnabas Kim Ju
  • Peter Choe Pilje
  • Lucia Yun Unhye
  • Candida Jeong Bokhye
  • Thaddeus Jeong Inhyeok
  • Carol Jeong Cheolsang
  • Jacob Chu Munmo
  • Paul Yi Gukseung
  • Columba Gang Wansuk
  • Susanna Gang Gyeongbok
  • Matthew Kim Hyeonu
  • Bibiana Mun Yeongin
  • Juliana Kim Yeoni
  • Anthony Yi Hyeon
  • Ignatius Choe Incheol
  • Agatha Han Sinae
  • Barbara Jeong Sunmae
  • Agatha Yun Jeomhye
  • Andrew Kim Gwangok
  • Peter Kim Jeongduk
  • Stanislaus Han Jeongheum
  • Matthew Choe Yeogyeom
  • Andrew Gim Jonggyo
  • Philip Hong Pilju
  • Augustine Yu Hanggeom
  • Francis Yun Jiheon
  • Johannes Yu Jungcheol
  • Johannes Yu Munseok
  • Paul Hyeon Gyeheum
  • Francis Kim Sajip
  • Gervasius Son Gyeongyun
  • Carol Yi Gyeongdo
  • Simon Kim Gyewan
  • Barnabas Jeong Gwangsu
  • Anthony Hong Ikman
  • Thomas Han Deokun
  • Simon Hwang Ilgwang
  • Leo Hong In
  • Sebastian Kwon Sangmun
  • Lutgrada Yi Suni
  • Matthew Yu Jungseong
  • Pius Kim Jinhu
  • Agatha Magdalena Kim Yundeok
  • Alexis Kim Siu
  • Francis Choe Bonghan
  • Simon Kim Gangi
  • Andrew Seo Seokbong
  • Francis Kim Huiseong
  • Barbara Ku Seongyeol
  • Anna Yi Simi
  • Peter Ko Seongdae
  • Joseph Ko Seongun
  • Andrew Kim Jonghan
  • Jacob Kim Hwachun
  • Peter Jo Suk
  • Teresa Kwon
  • Paul Yi Gyeongeon
  • Paul Pak Gyeonghwa
  • Ambrose Kim Sebak
  • Richard An Gunsim
  • Andrew Yi Jaehaeng
  • Andrew Pak Saui
  • Andrew Kim Sageon
  • Job Yi Ileon
  • Peter Sin Taebo
  • Peter Yi Taegwon
  • Paul Jeong Taebong
  • Peter Gim Daegwon
  • Johannes Cho Haesong
  • Anastasia Kim Joi
  • Barbara Kim Joi
  • Anastasia Yi Bonggeum
  • Brigida Choe
  • Protasius Hong Jaeyeong
  • Barbara Choe Joi
  • Magdalena Yi Joi
  • Jacob Oh Jongrye
  • Maria Yi Seongrye
  • Thomas Jang
  • Thaddeus Ku Hanseon
  • Paul Oh Banji
  • Mark Sin Seokbok
  • Stephan Kim Wonjung
  • Benedict Song
  • Peter Song
  • Anna Yi
  • Felix Peter Kim Giryang
  • Matthias Pak Sanggeun
  • Anthony Jeong Chanmun
  • Johannes Yi Jeongsik
  • Martin Yang Jaehyeon
  • Peter Yi Yangdeung
  • Luke Kim Jongryun
  • Jacob Heo Inbaek
  • Francis Pak
  • Margarita Oh
  • Victor Pak Daesik
  • Peter Joseph Yun Bongmun

"The Korean Church is unique because 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 boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today's splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the north of this tragically divided land" (Blessed John Paul II, speaking at the canonization).

 After the canonization of the 103 Martyrs, the Catholic Church in Korea felt that the martyrs who died in the other persecutions also need to be recognized. In 2003, the beatification process for 124 martyrs who died in persecutions between 1791 and 1888 began. They were declared Venerable by Pope Francis on February 7, 2014. The group is headed by Paul Yun Ji-Chung, a nobleman who converted to Catholicism and refused to have his deceased mother buried under the traditional Confucian rite. His refusal led to a massive persecution of Christians called the Sinhae Persecution in 1791. Paul was beheaded on December 8, 1791, together with his cousin, James Kwon Sang-yeon. They were the first members of the Korean Nobility to be killed for the faith. Among the martyrs in this group are Fr. James Zhou Wen-mo (1752-1801), a Chinese priest who secretly ministered to the Christians in Korea; Augustine Jeong Yak-Jong (1760-1801), the husband of St. Cecilia Yu So-sa and father of Sts. Paul Chong Ha-sang and Elizabeth Chong Chong-hye; Columba Kang Wan-suk (1761-1801), known as the "catechist of the Korean Martyrs"; Augustine Yu Hang-geom (1756-1801), also known as the "apostle of Jeolla-do"; and Maria Yi Seong-rye (1801-1840), the wife of St. Francis Choe Kyeong-hwan. Also included in the group are Augustine Yu Hang-geom's son John Yu Jeong-cheol (1779-1801) and his wife Lutgarda Yi Sun-i (1782-1802). They both decided to live celibate lives in order to fully dedicate themselves to God, but the Confucian society, which greatly valued furthering the family line, made it impossible for them to live as celibates. Fr. James Zhou introduced the two to each other and suggested them to marry each other and live as a "virgin couple." The two were married in 1797 and were martyred 4 years later.

Korean Martyrs Museum-Shrine

The Museum-Shrine, which contains rooms for liturgical celebration and prayer, was built in 1967 on the site in Jeoldusan where many of the Korean martyrs died from 1866 to 1873. The Shrine-Museum presents numerous historical documents, visual reconstructions, photographs and documentaries. The Christian community suffered harsh persecutions, especially in the second half of the 1800s. In 2004 the Archdiocese of Seoul opened its investigation into the cause for beatification of the Servant of God Paul Yun Ji-Chung and his 123 companions who in 1791 were tortured and killed in odium fidei, in hatred of the faith.

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