Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How the Early Christians Nurtured the Church in Korea

An article written for the Kyeongyang magazine by a historian sometime ago describes what it was like in the mission stations during the early days of  persecution, and up to the early 60s when society began to change.

He mentions that when St. Bishop Imbert traveled to the home of St.  Nam Myong-hyok, orders were given not to have more than a certain number of Christians come to the house, but this was ignored. The large numbers of visitors attracted the attention of local authorities who searched the house after the bishop left; the saint was arrested and  his road to martyrdom began.

On another occasion, Choi Yang-op, after visiting one of the mission stations, hearing confessions and saying Mass, left with the owner of the house to return to the city. Non-Catholics in the area then came and destroyed the house and expelled the Catholics.

Because of the potential problems of having so many people show up at these gatherings, it was decided to restrict the numbers that could  come in one day for  Mass and exams.  With these restrictions, it meant that a priest would stay at a mission station for as many days as necessary to take  care of the needs of the mission. The mission stations would then be called two-Mass or three-Mass mission stations, or whatever number would be needed to take care of the Christians.

This required sending the mission stations a list of what would be necessary before arriving. Some of the mission stations, for example, would not have adequate bedding so this was brought along with the Mass kit. An important part of each visit would be the exams of all the Christians, including questions on prayers and  teaching.  When the children were not able to give the correct answers, it was known that their fathers, at times, would be punished for not having parented correctly.

When Korea opened up to the West these mission visits turned into holidays. Even during the  busy farming season around Easter all work would stop, and children would not be sent to school. It was a holiday atmosphere. When the priest arrived, he would be treated to refreshments and during the meals his bowl of rice was piled  high. It was expected that he would leave part of the blessed rice in his bowl for others to eat. This would be considered by the Christians as better than any medicine, and mothers would encourage their children to eat what was left over.

The writer of the article mentions that it was not a few who saw the way the priest was treated with the best food available being the motivation for some of the boys  to want to go to the seminary. He even mentions that one of the archbishops of Korea often mentioned this as being his motivation for entering the seminary.

These trials  and tribulations of the early Church the writer says made for a strong nucleus. The sacrifice of these early priests  nourished  strong Christians like a brave commander would make  brave soldiers. The zealous Christians also nurtured  the missioners,  martyrs and saints as a strong  army makes for strong soldiers. They are the foundation of the Church in Korea.

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