A Catholic priest stands before martyrs' shrine in Seoul in this 2014 file photo. (Photo by)
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 bishops released the letter on March 30, anniversary of 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.
In the letter, the bishops advocated three ways on how those early Korean Catholics could be an example for today's Catholics. The bishops urged laypeople to be a witness of love, to do charity work for the poor and to form meaningful church communities built on the virtues of mercy.
"As descendants of the martyrs, we, Korean Catholics, should respect the poor and cherish their goodwill and experience," the bishops said in their letter. "Without such approaches, our proclamation of the good news will be in vain like the house on a sand hill."
In addition, the bishops reminded Korean Catholics that it is the Jubilee Year of Mercy and urged them to trust in God's mercy. They also asked them to spread God's mercy by forgiving others and helping non-practicing Catholics return to God.
The bishops also remembered foreigners such as the Maryknoll missionaries and Columbian priests and Benedictine monks who were dedicated to the growth and development of the church in Korea.
The letter also paid tribute to the foreign missionaries and Catholics killed during the Korean War 1950-53 by North Korean communists.
The bishops prayed for freedom of religion in North Korea and for national reconciliation.