Updated: December 18, 2014 09:06 PM GMT
Hundreds of thousands fill Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul on Saturday as Pope Francis presided over the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs. (Photo by Steve Finch/ucanews.com)
Pope Francis on Saturday celebrated the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs before an estimated crowd of nearly a million people, during which he called on Catholics to follow Jesus Christ above and not to make compromises with their faith or with the “radical demands of the Gospel”.
An enthusiastic crowd in downtown Seoul watched as Pope Francis honored Paul Yun Ji-Chung and 123 companions who were killed by “hatred of the faith” between 1791 and 1888.
With the exception of a Chinese priest who came to Korea to evangelize, all the martyrs were lay people.
Pope Francis spoke the words of beatification in Latin in front of the Gwanghwamun Gate to a crowd packed between the tall buildings of the Korean capital.
In his homily, the pope noted that “in the mysterious providence of God”, the Christian faith had failed on the shores of Korea by missionaries, but had entered “by the hearts and minds of Koreans themselves”.
He further noted the importance of the laity and called the martyrs the “first apostles of Korea” who had to choose whether to “follow Jesus or the world”.
“They had heard the Lord’s warning that the world would hate them because of it. They knew the price of being disciples,” he said.
“For many, this meant persecution and later exile in the mountains, where they formed Catholic villages,” he said, adding that all the things that could have kept them from Christ were taken away, and they knew that “only Christ was their treasure”.
Pope Francis said that in the world today people are often tempted to make compromises.
“On the contrary, the martyrs remind us to put Christ above all and see everything else in this world in relation to him and his eternal kingdom. [The martyrs] make us think about whether there is something for which we are prepared to die.”
He continued: “The example of the martyrs has much to say to us who live in societies where alongside enormous wealth grows silently abject poverty; where the cry of the poor is rarely heard and Christ continues to call, asking us to love and serve Him by reaching out to our brothers and sisters in need.”
Pope Francis concluded that the “legacy of the martyrs” was an inspiration not only to Christians but to “all men and women of good will” to “work in harmony for a more just, free and reconciled society, contributing to peace and the defense of truly human values in this country and around the world”.
During prayer, one of the intentions was read by a Chinese Catholic priest, who addressed the crowd and the pope in Mandarin.
“Lord, we are a persecuted Church. But you, O Lord of all hope, help us. Although we have received your Gospel and led your children, we suffer. Help us to be independent and in communion with the Church, and to never lose hope”.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined Gwanghwamun Square, where condemned Christians were condemned, tortured and led to their deaths.
Prior to the start of the Mass, Pope Francis went to pray at the shrine of Soesomun, where 44 of the 103 martyrs canonized in 1984 by Pope John Paul II were executed. He then returned in an open-air vehicle along the path these martyrs had taken.
Between 1791, the date of the execution of Paul Yun Ji-Chung, and 1888, the Catholic Church estimates that some 10,000 believers were martyred. Most of the 103 martyrs canonized by John Paul II had been killed during the repressions of 1839, 1846 and 1866.
The majority of the 124 beatified by Pope Francis were among the first generation of martyrs killed in 1801, with a few exceptions including Joseph Yun Pong-Mun, hanged in 1888 in Jinju, two years after the signing of the treaty of friendship between France and Korea, which included a clause of respect for religious freedom.
All were Korean and laity, with the exception of Father Jacques Ju Wen-mo, a Chinese Catholic priest who came in Korea and worked tirelessly to baptize new believers before being arrested and impaled by authorities in 1801.
This article appears courtesy of Églises d’Asie, the information agency of the Paris Foreign Missions. Translated and edited from the original French, it is published here by permission.