Whenever I think of religion in Asia, Buddhism and Confucianism automatically spring to my mind. How surprised I was to learn that in South Korea today, a tiny fraction of the population is Confucian, 26% is Buddhist, and 26% is Christian- 10% of whom are Catholic. This means that Christianity is tied, numerically speaking, as the largest religion in that Asian nation. Which is remarkable, considering that Christianity was introduced there just over 200 years ago, and the first native-born priest was ordained only in 1846.
That priest was St. Andrew Kim Taegon, whose feast we celebrate today. But it’s not just his feast. We also honor St. Paul Chong Hasang, who was a lay catechist, and his companions, the 103 Korean martyrs of the 19th century, the vast majority of whom were lay people. Indeed, it was the laity who first introduced Catholicism to Korea. It was lay leaders who helped it flourish before the first priests arrived decades later. And Korean Catholicism continues to flourish with a strong and committed laity.
Today’s celebration gives us the opportunity to rejoice, be challenged, and make a commitment. We can rejoice in the Church’s growth amongst the Korean people; we (as clergy and clergy candidates) can be challenged by the fact that the Korean church’s strength has come largely from faithful lay people; and we can commit ourselves to build up the Church in our nation, that the fruits of the Spirit manifested in Korea, may be enjoyed in the United States.
Photo Credit: (statue of St. Andrew Kim): Wikipedia Commons