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Daring martyr earns Pope’s praise


Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 05/24/23

St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon (1821-1846) was the first native-born priest of a nation that had been evangelized by the laity since the regime didn't allow Christianity.

Pope Francis is dedicating his Wednesday catecheses to the theme of sharing the Gospel, and this May 24, he offered the example of not only a daring martyr but, in a certain way, of an entire country.

The Pope spoke about St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon (1821-1846), the first native-born priest of Korea.

The Holy Father first stopped to note why he was the first priest:

The evangelization of Korea was done by the laity! It was the baptized laity who transmitted the faith, there were no priests […] Would we be capable of something like that? Let’s think about it: It’s interesting.

Find out more about the reasons and history of this below:

The Pope then went on to highlight two of the daring and courageous ways that St. Andrew had to share the Gospel, since during his time Korea “was the scene of a very severe persecution: Christians were persecuted and annihilated.”

The first is the way he used to meet with the faithful. Given the highly intimidating context, the saint was forced to approach Christians in a discreet manner, and always in the presence of other people, as if they had been talking to each other for awhile. Then, to confirm the Christian identity of his interlocutor, St Andrew would implement these devices: first, there was a previously agreed upon sign of recognition: “You will meet with this Christian and he will have this sign on his outfit or in his hand.”

And after that, he would surreptitiously ask the question — but all this under his breath, eh? — “Are you a disciple of Jesus?” Since other people were watching the conversation, the saint had to speak in a low voice, saying only a few words, the most essential ones.

For Andrew Kim, the expression that summed up the whole identity of the Christian was “disciple of Christ.” “Are you a disciple of Christ?” — but in a soft voice because it was dangerous. It was forbidden to be a Christian there.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

The Holy Father went on to reflect on the saint’s term – disciple: “The Christian is by nature one who preaches and bears witness to Jesus. Every Christian community receives this identity from the Holy Spirit, and so does the whole Church, since the day of Pentecost.”

Another example of St. Andrew Kim’s zeal was from while he was still a seminarian, the Pope said.

He had to find a way to secretly welcome missionary priests from abroad. This was not an easy task, as the regime of the time strictly forbade all foreigners from entering the territory. That’s why it had been, before this, so difficult to find a priest that could come to do missionary work: the laity undertook the mission.

One time — think about what St Andrew did — one time, he was walking in the snow, without eating, for so long that he fell to the ground exhausted, risking unconsciousness and freezing. At that point, he suddenly heard a voice, “Get up, walk!” Hearing that voice, Andrew came to his senses, catching a glimpse of something like a shadow of someone guiding him.

Courage to keep on going

From this experience, the Pope drew a lesson: In order to have apostolic zeal, we must have the courage to get back up when we fall.

But do saints fall? Yes! Indeed, from the earliest times. Think of St Peter: He commited a great sin, eh? But he found strength in God’s mercy and got up again. And in St Andrew we see this strength: He had fallen physically but he had the strength to go, go, go to carry the message forward.

No matter how difficult the situation may be—and indeed, at times it may seem to leave no room for the Gospel message—we must not give up and we must not forsake pursuing what is essential in our Christian life: namely, evangelization.

What about me?

Pope Francis invited the faithful to reflect in light of St. Andrew Kim’s example:

“But what about me, how can I evangelize?” You look at these great ones and you consider your smallness, we consider our littleness: Evangelizing the family, evangelizing friends, talking about Jesus — but talking about Jesus and evangelizing with a heart full of joy, full of strength. And this is given by the Holy Spirit.

Let us prepare to receive the Holy Spirit this coming Pentecost, and ask Him for that grace, the grace of apostolic courage, the grace to evangelize, to always carry the message of Jesus forward.

KoreaPope Francis
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