South Korea (Republic of Korea)
The Catholic Church in Korea:
Possibly the first Catholic missionary in Korea was Spanish Jesuit priest Gregorio Céspedes, arriving in December, 1593. At the time of the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98), Japanese leader Konishi Yukinaga married a Korean Christian woman, who had adopted Julia as her name.
However, Catholicism (and Christianity in general) in Korea more generally began in 1784 when Yi Seung-hun was baptized while in China under the Christian name of Peter. He later returned to Korea carrying religious texts, and baptized many fellow countrymen. The Church in Korea continued without formal missionary priests until a Chinese priest, Zhōu Wénmó arrived in 1794.
During the 19th century, the Catholic Church was targeted by the government of the Joseon Dynasty chiefly for the religion’s opposition to ancestral “worship”, which the Church perceived to be a form of idolatry, but which the State prescribed as a cornerstone of Korean culture.
Despite a century-long persecution that produced thousands of martyrs – 103 of whom were canonized by Pope John Paul II in May 1984, including the first Korean priest, St. Andrew Taegon Kim, who was ordained in 1845 and martyred in 1846 – the Church in Korea expanded. The Apostolic Vicariate of Korea was formed in 1831, and after the expansion of the Church structure over the next century, the current structure of the three Metropolitan Provinces, each with an Archdiocese and several suffragan Dioceses, was established in 1962.
In 1899, “the Sinch’uk Rebellion, a Confucian-led and -organised popular uprising”, made a “most barbarous massacre” of from 500 to 600 victims. It was in reaction to promises of tax exemptions by lay-assistants and desecration of “spirit-shrines” by Catholics, after the arrival of two French priests to Che
Government surveys showed that more than 45% of South Koreans practice no religion, that about 22% are Buddhists, and that 29.2% are Christians with 11.1% being Catholics and 18% being Protestants, meaning that Christianity is the largest religion.
The end of World War II resulted in two Koreas: that of the north and that of the south, and each became of sovereign state. In December 1948, the United Nations recognized South Korea’s government but not that of North Korea.
The Korean War
In June 1950 communist North Korea invaded South Korea. The United States came to the aid of South Korea at the head of a United Nations force composed of more than a dozen countries. Communist China joined North Korea in the war in November 1950, unleashing a massive Chinese ground attack against American forces. The Soviet Union also covertly supported North Korea. After three years of fighting, the war ended in a stalemate with the border between North and South Korea near where it had been at the war’s beginning.
This was the first hot war of the Cold War, and in it the United States demonstrated its continued commitment to containment (the idea that
In North Korea under the communist regime, Christianity is officially suppressed, and unofficial estimates by South Korean Church officials place the number of Catholics there at only 5,000. The North Korean Catholic Church, ecclesiastically united with South Korea, is composed of the two dioceses of Diocese of Pyongyang and Diocese of Hamhung (suffragan to the Metropolitan Archbishop of Seoul), and the only territorial abbey outside Europe, the Territorial Abbey of Tokwon or Dokwon.
South Korea (and by extension the Catholic Church in all Korea, north and south) has the fourth largest number of saints in the Catholic Church since 1984 as categorized by nation, a number which includes the Korean Martyrs.
In 1984 Pope John Paul II canonized a group of these martyrs in 1984, including St. Andrew Taegon Kim, the first Korean-born priest.
Pope Francis accepted an invitation to visit South Korea in August 2014. The four-day visit (August 14-18) which culminated in a Papal Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Seoul.
During a mass on 16 August, the Pope beatified 124 Korean Catholic martyrs.
An invitation for North Korea’s Catholics to attend was declined, due to South Korea’s refusal to withdraw from military exercises which it had planned with the United States.
According to government statistics, almost half the population claims no religious affiliation. Of those who do, 22% are Buddhist and 11% are Roman Catholic. Catholicism has experienced dynamic growth here in the last decade, with many conversions from Buddhism. This is in stark contrast to the more traditional …. and secular … countries of the west.
One shining example is Yuna Kim, a silver gold medal winner skater at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Previously, she had won a gold medal in Vancouver in 2010. She converted to the Faith as a result of the example set by her physician who was himself Catholic. She always made the sign of the cross prior to going out on the ice….a great example for everyone. When people see her make the Sign of the Cross before going on the ice, Father Lee said, “It is such a great witness that this hero of the nation is a very humble and devout Catholic.”
At the World Youth Day in Lisbon it was announce by Pope Francis that the next World Youth Day….in 2027…would be held in Seoul, South Korea. The Holy Father reflected how World Youth Day will thus go from “the western border of Europe,” in Portugal, “to the Far East” — “a beautiful sign of the universality of the Church, and of the dream of unity to which (the young people are) all witnesses.”
This will be only the 2nd time World Youth Day takes place in Asia (the first was Manila, Philippines, in 1995).
Catholic sites in Korea:
Our Mother’s House (Julia Kim) coming soon
Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary (coming soon)