Today we honor St. Andrew Kim, Korea’s first native-born priest, and Korea’s Patron Saint.
From 1600 to 1880 Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom: its only contact with the outside world being a yearly embassy to the court of the Chinese Emperor in Peking. In the year of American independence, 1776, some of those Korean envoys embraced the Catholic Faith that had been brought to Peking by the Jesuit genius, Father Matteo Ricci.
Returned to Seoul, they set up a secret Catholic Church with no priest, and with only one of Father Ricci’s books as their guide. Twenty years later a Chinese priest came to give them the Sacraments, and to tell them they couldn’t use volunteer priests. But after their Chinese priest was put to death as an alien, Korean Catholics were dependent on heroic French priests who were put to death after short spells of ministering to them.
Andrew’s father, who would be martyred for his Faith, was one of the Seoul intellectuals who kept the Faith alive. He sent a fifteen–year-old Andrew off to study for the priesthood in Shanghai. And Andrew, ordained at twenty-four, returned to his homeland where he worked among his own for two years before being betrayed. Sharing the fate of many Korean and French Catholics, he was beheaded on the banks of the Han River.
He was so loved that many Korean and foreign Catholics have begged to be buried near him. In Eighteen-eighty Korea was opened to foreigners, and it had its first Protestant ministers. I served over there for thirteen years, and it pleased me that everyone knew Catholics as the Old Christian Church.
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