As nuclear negotiations with North Korea continue, Catholics in South Korea are encouraging devotion to their martyr saints and renewing prayers for peace on the peninsula.
South Korea’s bishops applauded the successful completion of the third inter-Korean summit of Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, North Korea earlier this week. The meeting resulted in Kim promising to take steps towards denuclearization in exchange for concessions from the United States.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded with a statement that the U.S. is prepared to “engage immediately in negotiations” with North Korea, and invited North Korea’s foreign minister to meet with him at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City next week, where Moon will also meet with US President Donald Trump.
“This will mark the beginning of negotiations to transform U.S.-DPRK relations through the process of rapid denuclearization of North Korea, to be completed by January 2021, as committed by Chairman Kim, and to construct a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” Pompeo said Sept. 19.
Before heading to Pyongyang the First Lady of South Korea, Kim Jung-sook, attended Mass with Korean bishops in Seoul’s Myeongdong Cathedral and asked for prayers for the upcoming diplomatic negotiations.
The Mass was part of a week-long celebration of Korea’s martyr saints. On Sept. 14, the Vatican approved 'Seoul's Catholic Pilgrimage Routes’ as a World Pilgrimage Site.
Monsignor Salvatore Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, traveled to Seoul for the pilgrimage route’s dedication ceremony.
“These routes can help not only pilgrims coming from Asia and all over the world, but whoever else chooses to walk them, to reflect on the fact that human life laid down out of love and to open their hearts to the transforming power of God’s grace which bestows the gift of faith,” said Fisichella at the Seosomun Martyrs Shrine.
More than 100 Koreans were martyred at Seosomun Park, where Pope Francis prayed before celebrating their beatification Mass in his visit to South Korea in 2014.
"Stained in the blood and sweat of the martyrs, these pilgrimage routes are not just a legacy of the Church in Korea alone,” said Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul. They are a “sacred patrimony … for all citizens on the Korean Peninsula.”
Along the pilgrimage route is Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine, where Korea’s first priest, Saint Andrew Kim Taegon, was tortured and beheaded at age 25.
Saint Andrew Kim was born 1821 into an aristocratic Korean family that eventually included three generations of Catholic martyrs.
Kim traveled over 1,000 miles to attend seminary in Macau. While Kim was away at seminary, his father, Ignatius Kim Chae-jun, was martyred in 1839.
After Kim was ordained in Shanghai in 1845, he returned to his homeland to begin catechising Koreans in secret. Only 13 months later, he was arrested.
In his final letter from prison before his execution, Kim wrote to Catholics in Korea: "When he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded his Church; now he gives it increase through the sufferings of his faithful … I urge you to remain steadfast in faith, so that at last we will all reach heaven and there rejoice together. I embrace you all in love."
The feast of Saint Andrew Kim Taegon and his companions is celebrated Sept. 20.