Saturday, October 20, 2012

Catholics in the Royal Family

 During the persecution of Catholicism in Korea, many ironic situations developed. One of the most startling was the presence of Catholics in the same royal family that was persecuting the Church. 

The Peace Weekly provides us with a brief glimpse into those years of persecution with its article on the baptism of the grandson and daughter-in-law of Yi Ha-eung, the regent for the next-to-last king, the first Emperor Gojong of Korea. 

Yi Ha-eung was the regent for his son until he reached adulthood. It was during this time that the regent masterminded the last persecution of Christians, during which  many died, including nine French  missionaries.

The 25th King was Choljong whose mother and grandmother were both killed for their Catholicism. Choljong died without any direct bloodline heirs, and the son of Yi  Ha-eung and his wife was selected as the 26th king of Korea. The mother of Gojong was also a secret Catholic. So also was the wet nurse of the 26th king of Korea. Mutel mentions in his diary how he went to the royal place to baptize, confirm and give holy communion to the mother of the king. This excerpt from the diary we blogged back on September 30 and Oct. 1st, 2010: A True Story by Bishop Mutel, Bishop of Seoul 1890.

The grandson, before he was baptized in 1955,  said to the priest: "My grandfather killed many Catholics and as atonement, I want to become a Catholic."

The reason for the persecution, according to the article, was a weakening Jeoson Dynasty. In  order to strengthen the kingdom, Yi Ha-eung sided with one of the Confucian schools, and made up his mind to put an end to western learning, which did not look favorably on a society ranked by class distinctions.  Though his attempt to eliminate this "foreign scourge" was not successful, it lasted for more than three years of excruciating suffering for the Christians.


A number of museums have relics commemorating what occurred during the years of persecution. The Oryundae Korean  Martyrs Museum, in particular--thanks to the grandson of the religious persecutor Daewongun, prince of the great court, and the grandson's wife--have on display many items from the last years of the Jeoson dynasty that allow us to relive that difficult time and to acknowledge what those early Christians had to endure in order to survive.


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