Saturday, June 28, 2014

Columba Kang Wan-suk (1761~1801)

In the Peace Weekly,  a series of articles on the 124 martyrs who will be beatified on the coming visit of the pope to Korea continue to appear.  Among those who were martyred was Columba Kang Wan-suk (1761~1801)  the first Korean woman catechist.

During the Choson Dynasty and the promotion of Confucianism, the place of women in Korean society took a step backwards because of the feudal patriarchal society that was ushered in. Of course, this did not affect the  upper class as it did the ordinary and lower class members of society.Catholic teaching that we are all equal and made in the image of God was a big blow to the mores of society, and gave women a reason for self-esteem.

Catholicism gave women of that time the  values for living a full life, and enabling them to embrace the new faith and even give their lives for what they believed. Columba was a leader of these women. Despite the limitations of the society, she became a zealous leader, and practiced what she believed with sacrifice in search of the Gospel life. Because of her activity before the first priest Chu Mun-mo (James)  entered the country from China, there were already 4,000 Catholics in 1794. Just before the persecution of 1801 there were over 10,000 Catholics, and the large number of women is attributed to the work of Columba. Even the royal court was familiar with her work.

Before she entered the Church little was known about her life. She was the daughter of a concubine in a noble family in Naepo  Chungcheong-do. She was well-educated and considered by her peers as a woman of wisdom and virtue. She became the second wife of a man who was very mediocre and did not have a very happy life. She wanted to return to the world. It was at this time that she read some books about Catholicism and began to instruct her family and neighbors. Her husband wasn't interested and began to harass her and later took a concubine and  separated from Columba. She moved from Naepo with her mother-in-law and her stepson and began to work full-time with spreading the faith. In 1795, rather late, she was baptized by Fr. Chu and  was immediately made the  women catechist.

She hid Fr. Chu in her house, and it became the meeting place for the Christians. A custom of the times was that the government officials were not allowed to enter the houses of the noble class to search. She brought many from the lower classes of society into the Church and also members of the nobility and the grandfather of a future king of the country. She made no distinctions between the high and low. On April 6th of 1801, she was arrested in her house and dragged to the police station.The police tried on six different occasions with severe torture without any results to find the Chinese priest's location.While in prison, she continued to study her faith and strengthened those who were confined with her. On July 2nd, she was martyred.

Without the efforts of Columba would the results in  the Choson Dynasty have been possible? The work of Columba made it possible to enter the ordinary and lower segments of society. According to Arnold Toynbee: "All acts of social creation are the work of either an individual creator or, at most, of creative minorities."

Columba was of the noble class, the daughter of a concubine, a woman, who  lived as the second wife of an abusive husband,  makes her life all that more glorious.

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