Sunday, October 27, 2013

Meeting the local Church

   Today was a day spent in getting to know the local church in Seoul, its history and vitality as well as issues facing Catholics in Korea.  Most people do not know that catholicism in Korea entered by means of the laity. Some Korean scholars of Confucianism learned about catholicism through reading catholic books brought in from China.  Their enthusiasm encouraged them to send a man by the name of Yi Seung-hun (1756-1801) to Beijing to acquire new books on catholicism such as prayer books and objects such as rosaries and icons.  While in China he and his father were baptised by the Jesuit missionary, Fr. Grammont, sj. When he was baptized in February 1784 he took the name of Peter. Returning to Korea near Seoul, the intellectuals of the Joseon dynasty incouraged others to study and accept the faith so that in October of the same year Yi Seung-hun Peter baptized two others which established the first Catholic community in Korea. The reality of Christianty began among intellectuals and the well to do but quickly passed to the middle class and began to spread rapidly.  A hierarchy for Korea was only established in 1831.
  Today Catholics number a little over 10.3 % of the population and is growing rapidly.  During the day we visited the cathedral of Seoul and Archbishop Yeom Soon-jung gracious received us and spoke about the persecutions of the Catholics but more about that later.  We celebated the Eucharist in the cathedral with Archbishop Kim presiding.  The Cathedral was packed. The liturgy was celebrated with great singing of traditional music and lively participation.

   After the celebration we enjoyed some Korean traditional food and then went on to the seminary to meet the retired Cardinal Cheong Jinsuk.  There we learned more about the persecutions of Catholics.  The primary cause seems to be that Catholics broke with the traditional practices of ancestry worship. According to Confucianism every family should practice an ancestor rite honoring them for four generations.  Because of the disputes in China between 1643 and 1742 among missionaries with the church, especially with Matteo Ricci, sj and the Mendicant orders, Rome finally spoke in 1715 with a letter (Ex illa die) from Pope Clement XI that condemed the use of ancestor rites which were understood to be idolatrous worship.  This provked a serious crisis for the believers in Joseon when they were prohibited from this practice in 1790.  Some abandoned the faith while others stayed and had to face the consequences of clinging to their beliefs.While the practice in China was the object of  Papal condemnatin there was a difference between the practice of ancestor rites in China and those in Korea.  The point of contention in China was whether God's name could be used in a ceremony which worshipped Confucius and whether these rites were purely religious or just civil ceremonies. In Korea, the question was whether the ancestor was enshrined in the tables used during the rites and if God was indeed the focus of these ceremonies.  The persecutions went on in waves from 1791 to 1886.
  We had an interesting discussion with the emeritus Cardinal about the issues of inculturation and the persecutions that led to the first martyrs of the faith recognized by the Church.

It was actually the first ordained Korean native priest Andrew Kim Tae-gon (1945) who suffered martyrdom in 1846 who would eventually be canonized along with 103 Korean martyrs in 1984 by Pope John Paul II. The remains of these martyrs are venerated in the crypt of the cathedral and  in the seminary in Seoul.

Today the seminary in Seoul has 280 seminarians.  We ended our day by visiting the seminary and meeting some of the seminarians.  We learned that they were only a small number of the 1,200 seminarians in the whole country.

Even though the day was long, we learned a lot about this growing church and its relationships with other Christians and with "neighboring" religions which is the way that the interreligious dialogue in Korea speaks of other religions.
  My last picture today is of the whole delegation at the Cathedral.  Tomorrow I will be off to visit  a major temple and to the Martyrs' shrine. It became obvious for me in listening to the Korean Catholics that the blood of the martyrs has indeed born much fruit.
Peace and all good!

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