Thursday, September 30, 2010

A True Story by Bishop Mutel, Bishop of Seoul, 1890

Back in August of 1919 in the Field Afar, Maryknoll Magazine, there was an article captioned:  A True Story by Bishop Mutel of Seoul. The article as it appeared in the Field Afar magazine will be divided into two blogs, one for today and one for  tomorrow. This is a  story known to the Catholics of Korea, but for those not acquainted with  Korean Catholic history may find this of  interest. The story  as related by Bishop Mutel  to the Superior of Maryknoll is  told below: 
                                       Christianity in the Court

The prince whom the Japanese call Prince Ri Senior, occupied the throne of Korea, first as king, from 1864 until 1897; then as emperor, from 1897 until 1907; when he abdicated in favor of his son, who was dethroned in 1910 and has since been known as Prince Ri Junior.

Born of a noble family in 1852, Prince Ri senior was only twelve years of age when he was chosen to succeed a childless king, and the regency placed in the hands of his father, Heung-song-koun, principal author of the terrible persecution of 1866, which gave us so many martyrs. Little as the regent suspected it, Christianity had even then won its way not only into the court, but into his household. The nurse of the boy-king was a devout Catholic, and his own wife loved the Church and  believed in it. Shortly before Bishop Berneux's martyrdom she sent a message, begging him to offer a number of Masses for the prosperity of the kingdom, and while her husband was torturing priests and thousands of native Christians, she was secretly studying the catechism and preparing herself for baptism.

                                     Empress Seeks Baptism

She was a Christian at heart for many years, and when, in 1890, I returned to Korea as Bishop, she sent to me, begging for baptism. It was impossible for me to grant her petition, for notwithstanding her great age she still acted as mistress of the royal family and among her duties were the preparation of the pagan sacrifices and the defraying of whatever expense pertained to them. I was obliged to reply that she could not be baptized until she renounced all  participation in the false worship of the court.

In the spring of 1896, giving her advanced age as excuse, she resigned her place as head of the   royal household, and once more asked for baptism. The eleventh of  October was the day chosen, the place a Christian maid-servant's unpretentious home, outside the grounds of the palace, but not far from it. I was the first to reach the house and hid behind the door of its one room. Soon the princess came, carried in a kind of chair which is in general use among the ladies of the palace. The bearers did not know her and suspected nothing. A pagan woman of the court, to whom the princess had confided the secret, accompanied her on foot. When the princess alighted she was greeted as Koreans greet an aged relative; only after she entered the house, and the door had been closed, was more profound  respect shown her.

                                    The Secret Ceremony

The princess was immediately presented to me. She was simply dressed, and very simple in manner. Her sight had grown dim, but her hearing was perfect and her mind was alert and keen. We had much to say to each other, but there was little time for anything  but the serious matter for which we had met. I asked her to repeat our ordinary prayers, and she said them fluently, as one does who recited them often. I examined her in Christian Doctrine, and she readily answered all my questions. I then baptized her with as much solemnity as time and place permitted. A Christian, the daughter of the king's nurse, was godmother. All went well, although during the ceremony we could hear the bearers of the princess' chair wrangling over a few pennies just outside the door. Evidently they had too much wine.

When I poured the baptismal water on the forehead of Princess Mary, I saw a look of unutterable joy illumine her face- a look which I have seen a thousand times on the countenances of humbler converts. Immediately afterward I confirmed her, and this time a Christian servant was godmother. The ceremonies had lasted about an hour and we could not tarry longer without danger. I said good-bye to Princess Mary and hid behind the door while she went to her chair. When it passed out of sight I also left the  house.

The following day Princess Mary sent someone  to thank me, to tell me that she had re-entered the palace without being see, and also to ask for a dispensation from abstinence, which it would have been almost impossible for her to observe.

Second part will continue tomorrow.


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