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Exhibition on Korean Catholic martyrs draws thousands

Paul Yun Ji-chung and 123 other Catholics were martyred for the faith in the early days of Christianity in Korea
Visitors look at the portraits of Korean Catholic martyrs at Jeonju Shrine of South Korea in September.

Visitors look at the portraits of Korean Catholic martyrs at Jeonju Shrine of South Korea in September. (Photo: Catholic Times of Korea)

Published: October 04, 2023 11:14 AM GMT
Updated: October 04, 2023 11:19 AM GMT

More than 5,000 people visited a photo exhibition at the Jeonju Shrine of South Korea that showcased portraits of 124 early Catholic martyrs beatified by Pope Francis in 2014.

The Council of Lay Apostolic Organizations of Jeonju Diocese arranged the exhibition “You can never abandon your faith” at the Hall of Peace of the shrine on Sept. 1-24.

This was the first such exhibition by the lay Catholic group, which sought to motivate Catholics about their faith that has somewhat shrunk during the Covid-19 pandemic, organizers say.

“The exhibition offered a calming impression not only to believers but also to non-believers,” said the council’s chairman, Han Byung-Seong

The event “motivated non-believers to become interested in faith through the lives of martyrs who overcame the class system and realized equality and brotherhood,” Han added.

The exhibition featured portraits of 124 martyrs including Paul Yun Ji-chung who were killed for refusing to recant their faith in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Yun (1759-1791) was among the first Catholics persecuted and martyred when the Buddhist rulers of Joseon dynasty started a crackdown on Christianity, accusing the faith of being associated with foreign colonialists and conflicting with Confucian ethics.

The persecution amid a ban on Christians that spanned over a century produced between 8,000 to 10,000 martyrs, church records say.

During the beatification ceremony in Seoul on Aug. 16, 2014, Pope Francis hailed the Korean martyrs for their great sacrifice.

"In God's mysterious providence, the Roman Catholic faith was not brought to the shores of Korea by missionaries. Rather, it entered through the hearts and minds of the Korean people themselves,” Francis said.

The 124 martyrs are one step away from sainthood in the Catholic Church.

The organizers pointed out that the event proved as a motivation against a decline in Catholic Church memberships and participation following the pandemic.

In March, a survey by the Korean Catholic Research Institute of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference found that 36.1 percent of Catholic youth in their twenties joined Sunday mass in 2023 compared to 53.2 percent before the pandemic.

Among the respondents in their twenties, one out of four said they only participate in mass on special occasions or do not participate at all.

Among the respondents who stated that they were avoiding Sunday mass around 70 percent were women.

This report is brought to you in partnership with the Catholic Times of Korea.

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