Thursday, August 11, 2016
Fr. Wilhelm and Ahn Jung-geun
Ahn Jung-geun and his relationship with Father Wilhelm, a Paris Foreign Missioner, who baptized him has received much study and interest. An article in Theological Perspective Quarterly by a seminary professor who has studied the issue in depth gives us his understanding of what was involved.
The issues highlighted in this brief article are those that continue to bother us both as citizens and as people of faith. Our attitudes depend a great deal on the perspective that we have and duties that we have in society and in our different communities.
In 1909, Ahn killed the Japanese Ito Hirobumi, resident general of Korea, in the Harbin Railway station. Ahn shot Ito three times on the railway platform. He was arrested by Russian guards and turned over to the Japanese colonial authorities. He didn't consider himself a criminal but wanted to be treated as a prisoner of war. When he heard the news that Ito had died he made the sign of the cross in gratitude.
When Ahn was in the Lushun Prison his mother asked Fr. Wilhelm to visit her son. He hesitated for he knew Bishop Mutel and many of the priests considered such a visit political while he saw it as religious.The Japanese authority gave permission for the visit but the bishop required that Ahn repent for his act: it was wrong to kill Ito Hirobumi and he wanted this expressed publicly.
Bishop Mutel since he was responsible for the church's mission in all of Korea, felt there would be difficulties for the priests since Japan was the de facto ruler of Korea. However, the priest looked upon his visit only in a religious way without any political overtones.
Fr. Wilhelm after much thought made the visit to the Lushun Prison. From the perspective of the personnel involved in the Lushun Prison, it was difficult to understand the visit only as religious. Since the priest asked for the full text of the proceedings against Ahn.
After his return to Korea Wilhelm was relieved of his priestly duties by the bishop. Fr. Wilhelm found this difficult to understand for going to a person that was on death row was the work of a priest and he appealed to the Catholic Mission Headquarters and the Congregation of Propaganda Fide.
Bishop Mutel found it hard to accept the resistance of the priest because the visit to the prison left plenty of room to interpret the visit politically. The bishop thought his visit would be harmful to the work of the church in Korea and have an impact on the Korean priesthood and the ministry of the church. The matter was concluded by Wilhelm leaving Korea.
Father Wilhelm accepted the fact that he couldn't return to Korea but justified his actions. He was vindicated by the church; Ahn is now considered by most as a patriot who carried out an 'uprising', for the cause of independence of the Republic of Korea and peace of East Asia.