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. So he was one busy priest!
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.
Today’s first reading speaks of a kind of “everything old will be made new again.” This is the hope of all the martyrs, those like Andrew Kim and Paul Chong and their companions who gave their lives so that the Gospel would be known in every corner of the earth. What they gave was merely their corruptible body. No one could take from them their souls, which had been made gloriously white and gleamingly new as they washed them in the Blood of Christ.
Many of us have to deal with frustrations and ailments of all kinds. So hearing about a new, incorruptible body is a source of joy. But the words of St. Paul are also a cause for peace, that even in the midst of persecution, we will never lose anything we don’t need for all eternity. Because our body “is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.” No matter what may come to us in our life, we can be at peace with the words of the Psalmist, “I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.”