Korea was introduced to Christianity in the late 1500s when some Koreans were baptized, probably by Christian Japanese soldiers who invaded Korea at that time. It was not until the late 1700s that a priest managed to sneak into Korea, and when he did, he found about 4000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were over ten thousand Catholics.
In the 1800s, Andrew Kim became the first native Korean to become a priest when he traveled 1300 miles to seminary in China. He managed to find his way back into the country six years later. When he returned home, he arranged for more men to travel to China for studies. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded.
St. Paul Chong was a lay apostle who was also martyred. During the persecutions of 1839, 1846, 1866 and 1867, 103 members of the Christian community gave their lives for the faith. These included some bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay people, including men and women, married and unmarried, children, young people and the elderly. They were all canonized by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Korea in 1984.
Men and women like these Korean martyrs have always had a clear picture of what St. Paul was telling Timothy: “attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching.” It is hard for us to imagine the incredible hardship and danger they faced by living their faith, but they lived it anyway, at the cost of their own lives. We may never be called upon to give our lives for the faith, but we may indeed have to pour out our lives for it every day by giving when we don’t feel like it, or being the presence of Christ to those we would rather not be around, or by making an unpopular stand contrary to the thoughts of those close to us. Martyrdom looks different in different times and places. May we be as willing to give of ourselves as the Korean martyrs were in that day.