St. Andrew Kim Taegon and the Korean Martyrs

St. Andrew Kim Taegon was the first Korean-born priest, and has his own feast day on the date of his martyrdom, September 16. However, he is also celebrated with the other 102 Korean martyrs, with whom he was canonized, on September 20.

Lifetime: August 21, 1821 to September 16, 1846
Region: Korean peninsula
Patronages: Korean clergy
Iconograpy: Black gat hat; Red stole; Crucifix and Bible
Feast Day: September 16; September 20 (with Korean martyrs)

The victims of a mass persecution in the mid 1800s, 103 of the Korean martyrs have been declared saints in the Catholic church, and an additional 124 have been beatified. These martyrs were killed for practicing their Christian faith in the heavily Confucian country they lived in. 

When Christian missionaries first entered Korea, they were surprised to find thousands of faithful Christians already living there. Though they had never seen a priest, these Korean Christians had learned of the faith through books traded from China and slowly formed faith communities without any priests, sacraments, or connection to the broader church.

Missionaries and priests tried coming into Korea for years to minister to these secret Christian communities, but it was extremely dangerous. Not only the priests themselves, but anyone who helped hide them could be executed.

Even Andrew Kim Taegon, the first Korean-born priest, had to study in a colony in China to become a priest. He studied for nine years, and when he returned he also had to practice the faith in secret.

The persecution against the Korean Christians was so extreme that at one time, about 1/3 of all Korean Christians were killed by their own government. Because there were so few priests, the vast majority of those killed were laypeople.

Andrew Kim Taegon was tortured and beheaded when he was only 26 years old. He had only been practicing as a priest for just over a year. His last words were:

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 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.

Because of the unshaking faith of so many Korean people under torture and the threat of death, today there are more canonized Korean saints than all but 3 other countries, despite the fact that the Gospel wasn't preached there until relatively recently. 

Today, the Korean peninsula is made up of two countries - North Korea and South Korea. About 11% of South Koreans, or about 5.8 million people. However, North Korea is officially an athiest state and has practiced persecution of Christians since the country formed in 1949. There are several hundred who practice their own branch of Catholicism in North Korea, though it is not part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. 

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