The first Korean Catholic priest and a martyr for the faith, St Andrew Kim Taegon is a renowned figure in the history of Catholicism in his native land.
Born on August 21 1821, Andrew came from a family of martyrs. During the 19th century, Catholics in Korea were persecuted by the ruling Joseon Dynasty for abandoning Confucianism and Andrew’s great-grandfather, Kim Chin-hu Pius, died in prison in 1814 after being arrested for his conversion to Catholicism.
The saint’s father, Kim Chae-jun Ignatius, was also martyred in 1839 for the practice of the faith.
In 1836, aged 15, Andrew entered seminary in Macau. In 1842, he acted as an interpreter on a French warship and was coincidentally present at the signing of the Nanking Treaty, which marked the end of the First Opium War between Great Britain and China. In 1845, Andrew was ordained in Shanghai. He then returned to Korea and catechised local communities by night.
Andrew was arrested in June 1846 after a failed attempt to smuggle French missionaries into Korea. Initially, the king resisted executing Andrew on account of his bright personality and broad learning. Eventually, however, he was sentenced to death and was beheaded on September 16 1846 on the banks of the Han River near Seoul, after prolonged torture. His last words were: “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.”
On May 6 1984, Andrew was canonised along with 102 other Korean martyrs by St John Paul II in Seoul. At the canonisation Mass, the late pope remarked: “The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the martyrs. Even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land.”
Andrew is venerated as the patron saint of Korean clergy. In August this year, Pope Francis visited the birthplace of Andrew in Solmoe during his four-day trip to South Korea.