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First Korean saint’s statue unveiled at the Vatican

Event marked the 177th martyrdom anniversary of the saint
The statue of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon was unveiled on the outer wall of Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Sept. 16

The statue of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon was unveiled on the outer wall of Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Sept. 16. (Photo: Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea)

Published: September 18, 2023 08:36 AM GMT
Updated: September 18, 2023 08:47 AM GMT

The statue of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon, the first Korean Catholic priest, martyr and saint, was unveiled on the outer wall of Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, media reports say.

The installation of the statue on Sept. 16 coincided with his 177th martyrdom anniversary, Yonhap news agency reported.

It also came as the Vatican and South Korean mark 60 years of diplomatic relations.

Korean sculptor Han Jin-sub created the 3.8-meter-high marble statue, which has the saint wearing a traditional Korean hat, called a "gat," and a traditional men's outfit called a "dopo" in Korean.

Korean Cardinal Lazzaro You Heung-sik, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy of the Holy See, blessed its installation in a Mass attended by a Korean Church delegation including Bishop Mathias Ri Long-hoon, president of the Korean Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, the report stated.

Kang Seung-kyoo, a special envoy of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol also attended the Mass and the installation ceremony.

You said people around the world, especially youth, are encouraged to follow St. Andrew Kim as a role model.

"I expect and pray that young people around the world will emulate the life of the priest, Kim Tae-gon who did not lose hope and courage in the face of any difficulties though he had lived a short life of 25 years," You said in the Mass.

The installation of the Korean saint’s statue is another "astonishing and touching" moment after Pope Francis chose Seoul as the venue for the 2027 World Youth Day, a global Catholic gathering held every three years.

You proposed the statue initiative to Pope Francis in 2021 when the Korean Church marked the 200th birth anniversary of the saint. The Korean bishops’ conference funded the project, Yonhap reported.

Buddhism to Catholicism

Andrew Kim Tae-gon (1821-1846) was born to Buddhist parents. He and his family were converted to Catholicism by a priest from the French missions.

During that period, conversion to Christianity was dangerous and banned by the Joseon dynasty rulers who viewed the religion as a subversive, alien faith that conflicted with Confucian ethics and invited foreign imperialism.

Thousands of early Catholic converts were tortured and massacred for refusing to recant their faith. Kim’s father, Ignatius Kim, was martyred in 1839.

Following his conversion, Anrew Kim traveled to Macau for priestly formation. He was ordained as the first native Korean priest in 1845 by French missionary and first bishop of Seoul, Jean-Joseph Ferréol. 

Despite knowing the risks, he returned to Korea in 1846 and started helping missionaries enter the country by evading royal forces.

He was arrested and incarcerated in 1846. He was beheaded in a prison near Seoul at the age of 25.

Pope John Paul II made Kim a saint along with 102 Korean martyrs during his visit to South Korea in 1984.

“A burning faith”

Hours before the installation, Pope Francis met a 300-member-strong Korean Church delegation at the Vatican.

In a letter on the saint’s martyrdom anniversary, Francis urged Korean Catholics to emulate the zeal of the martyred saint.

“[St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon’s] figure invites us to discover the vocation entrusted to the Korean Church, to all of you: You are called to a young faith, to a burning faith that, animated by love of God and neighbor, becomes a gift,” he said on Sept. 16.

“With the prophecy of martyrdom, the Korean Church reminds us that we cannot follow Jesus without embracing his cross and that we cannot proclaim ourselves Christians without being willing to follow the way of love to the end,” Pope Francis said.

During the visit, South Korean envoy Kang Seung-kyoo, handed a letter from President Yoon to Francis on the 60th anniversary of Vatican-Korea diplomatic relations.

In his letter Yoon expressed his hope to deepen the friendly and cooperative partnership between the Vatican and South Korea.

Yoon thanked the pope for his interest, permission and support to install the statue of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon at the Vatican.

Envoy Kang thanked the pope for choosing Seoul to host 2027 World Youth Day and pledged the government’s active support to make it successful.

He also expressed gratitude by recalling that the Vatican was the first state to send a diplomatic envoy to Korea following its liberation from Japanese colonial rule and the Vatican’s support to the South Korean government to help win recognition by the UN General Assembly in 1948.

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