Thursday, September 12, 2013

Filial Piety and Loyalty of Korean Martyrs

Most people consider life their most precious possession. However, there are times that other values are more important: parents will sacrifice their lives for their children and  children for parents. And sacrificing oneself for an idea or a belief has often occurred throughout history, always for what was thought to be of greater value than their own life.

A professor emeritus writing for the diocesan bulletin reflects on  the sacrifice of life by the Korean martyrs, as they would have seen it. Often we hear that the martyrs of Korea belonged to a foreign religion. When they list the Korean traditional religions, it is natural not to include Christianity. However, when  martyrs sacrificed their lives for what they believed, it was not something separate from their being Korean, says the professor, but was an integral part of who they were.

When the Korean martyrs gave their lives, the professor points out, they did not do so for a foreign religion but for what they believed in. They accepted their Christianity as having many of the same traditional values of the Korean culture, and interpreted Christianity from this background. When Catholicism entered Korea, one of the most important values widespread throughout society was respect for parents and loyalty to the king. The cultural values of respect and loyalty were root and trunk of the Korean ethos, with loyalty valued higher, says the professor, than filial respect.

The martyrs of Korea, because of their great respect for God, called him, in keeping with their cultural heritage, their Great King and Great Father. They felt a greater, more lofty loyalty and filial piety for God  than they did for their earthly king and parents. They remembered the filial piety Jesus showed his mother when he was on the cross. The martyrs were very much taken up with the thinking of the times, and since filial piety and loyalty were so  important in the culture, it was only natural that they would direct these values onto God the Father. This is where the Korean values of loyalty and filial piety and the Christian teaching become one. Therefore, to say that what was done by the Korean martyrs is foreign to the Korean culture does not fit the facts, says the professor.

The Christians knew that God was a just God and that the filial obedience they owed to parents should also be directed to God. This filial respect is fundamental to our Korean religions, the professor maintains, adding that the filial piety of our Koreans is the same kind of piety the Christian martyrs showed to God.

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