Today is the feast of the martyrs of Korea, led by the indomitable convert priest, Father Andrew Kim Taegon, tortured and beheaded in 1846 at the tender age of 25, by the shores of the Han River. Thousands more were likewise killed for their faith, 103 of whom were canonized by name by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1984. Pope Francis beatified 124 others during World Youth Day in Korea in 2014.
Their work and their witness were not in vain: Korea today, by which most people mean ‘South Korea’, although mostly secular and atheistic, still boasts a nearly 30% Christian population, about 11% of that Catholic. And from what I have heard, they are in the main zealous and orthodox.
North Korea, usually referred to by its geographical adjective, on the other hand, was divided from Koreans in the south after World War II, when so many countries were given over, one might say (and many do) sold out, to the Communists under Stalin. A puppet regime was set up, which still exists today, suffering under the ridiculous, but fanatical and dangerous and, yes, evil, antics of Kim Jong Un and his loyal henchmen. The country is more or less atheistic, under the cult of personality of its ‘great leader’. Christians make up less than 2% of the population.
So there is much work to do in Korea, presuming that the great dictator to the north does not do something apocalyptic, like drop one of his dozen or so nukes on his neighbours to the south. An article today claimed that the insane North Korean regime has been, and still is, propped up by the United States, for fear that something worse would come along should the great ‘Kim’ fall, and his nuclear arsenal itself fall into the hands of who knows who.
Such is realpolitik in today’s world. A fragile balance of power, on the brink of who knows what.
But we Catholics live in real spiritual-tik, where God’s law, not man’s, reigns. As today’s reading from Proverbs declares,
‘the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will’
And as Christ would later paradoxically teach Pilate as He stood bound and scourged before him, that the Roman potentate would have no authority, had it not been given from above. God will remove the tyrants in His own good time, and in the meantime, at times we must live under persecution, even bloodshed. The worst that can happen, really, is that we give up our lives. But that is a joy, as the young Father Kim Taegon realized as he was dying:
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 for 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.
So let us intercede with the martyrs that many will not ‘refuse to know him’, but, as Christ exhorts the people in today’s Gospel, rather they hear the word of God, and keep it.