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ICC NOTE: As the threat of nuclear testing continues to emanate from North Korea, Christian persecution, both past and present, tends to be forgotten. North Korea has no religious freedom as the only real religion is devotion to Kim Jong Un. South Korea has a flourishing Christian population and the protections of religious freedom for its citizens. But it was not so long ago as the Catholic church commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Byeongin persecution in 1886. 8,000 Korean Catholics were martyred for refusing to abandon their core faith values that were in direct conflict with Confucian principles. The Anniversary should remind fellow Christians of the hardships their brothers and sisters in Christ face everyday in places like North Korea, China, Vietnam, and other oppressive nations in Southeast Asia. Take time to pray for them and for those who have gone before them in the name of Jesus. 

4/18/2016 Korea (Independent Catholic News) – The 150th anniversary of the harshest persecution of Catholics in Korea has been commemorated in a pastoral letter from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea. The letter urges Catholics not to forget the 1886 Byeongin persecution and to follow the examples of the martyrs. The commemoration recalls the persecution and death of five martyr-saints: three French missionaries and two Korean laypeople. Approximately 9,000 people, almost half of the total Catholic population at the time, were killed for their faith.

Irish Columban missionary Fr Donal O’Keeffe worked in Korea for more than 40 years, and recently stepped down as Columban Director there. Seven Columbans were killed in Korea during the Korean War, having refused to leave their parish communities.

Fr Donal explains the importance of the 150th anniversary commemoration for Korean Catholics: “The Byeongin Martyrs are highlighted because it was the persecution where the vast majority of the Korean Martyrs were killed – approx 8,000 in all out of a total of 10,000. It was the 5th persecution and the most cruel and severe. The bishops are using the occasion to remind the Church once again of the Martyr history and its significance for today – a history which lasted 100 years from 1784 – 1881.

During that period lay persons took full responsibility for passing on and living the faith in small communities. In the period 1784-1930 there was only one missionary in the country and just for a short period of 4 years. But the people kept and passed on the faith in difficult circumstances – a clear challenge and message for the Christians today.

The reason for persecution was the refusal of believers to abandon the core faith values of the equality of people, the dignity of each person in the face of a Confucian system which valued hierarchy and elitism. The authorities considered the Christians a threat to the status quo. This is a history which clearly challenges people today to look at their own lifestyle and core values in a modern capitalist society.

Again, in the reality of the persecution so many families were broken, people were in hiding in abject poverty and yet the communities continued to care for them – a message of mercy and care for the poor in our own day. I think those are the values that the bishops wanted to highlight for the Church in Korea of today.”

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