THE MISSIONS OF ASIA
missionary letter to foster prayers for Asia
- History of the Asian Missions - Introduction of Catholicism
into Korea - Part I
II - A letter from China
For the Missions of Asia:
One Million Hail Marys Daily
- History of the Asian Missions Introduction
of Catholicism into Korea Part
was during the Japanese invasion (1592-1598) that Catholicism
had its first direct contact with Korea. A Catholic priest,
Gregorio de Cespedes, S. J. and a monk were sent to Korea by a
Japanese general as chaplains for the Japanese soldiers stationed
in the southern part of Korea. Since it was a war period,
they could not have any contact with Korean people. They
could only take care of the Japanese soldiers and the Korean prisoners
of war, particularly the orphans.
gate at Uiju
through which missionaries initially entered Korea from China
It is noteworthy that Korea began to have contacts with Catholicism
through Korean diplomatic envoys, who were regularly sent to China
four times a year or on special occasions. The Korean envoys
in Peking used to visit Catholic churches and met Jesuit priests
frequently. The priests gave some Catholic books to the
Korean envoys who brought them back to Korea. Some Korean
scholars became so interested in the books that they began to
study the new religion. They organized a group to study
the new religion in Ch’onjin-am and Chuo-sa. In the study
group, Neo-Confucianism, which was the traditional Confucian philosophy
in Korea, was compared with the Catholic philosophy. As
a result the scholars came to understand and appreciate the new
religion. This was how the Catholic faith began to develop
Ch'onjin and Ch'onjinam Valley
of the Catholic Church in Korea
where the tombs of the 5 Founding Fathers is located.
in 1784, a new era of Catholicism began in Korea. There
was a noble scholar called Yi Byok, who read many Catholic books
and knew a great deal about the Catholic religion. Through
the Korean envoys he tried to get in touch with the foreign priests
in Peking in order to obtain more Catholic books. Yi Sung-hun,
one of his friends, went with his father to Peking.
bicentennial monument of the Catholic Church in Korea (1779-1979,
at Ch'onjinam Valley
Sung-hun (1756-1801) was a noble scholar of Nam-in Pro-King Party.
He read many Catholic books brought in from Peking. He is
the one, who while he was in Peking, was baptized with the name
of Peter. He returned to Korea to found the Catholic lay
church community for the first time in the history of the nation,
thus becoming a Peter of the Orient. He was a son of Yi
Tong-uk and was born in Seoul in 1756. His father passed
the national examination and was a high ranking government official.
His mother was a great grand daughter of Yi Ik, a Neo-Confucian
Pragmatism scholar, and a sister of Yi Ka-hwan, a well known writer
of the day.
Yi Sung-un was very intelligent and was able to read the difficult
Chinese literature at a very young age. He became well known
among the scholars at the age of 20. He married a sister
of Tasan Chong Yak-yong, who was famous for summarizing Neo-Confucian
Pragmatism. With his brothers-in-law he read the Catholic
books brought in from Peking. He tried to imitate the virtues
of the saints and to associate with the noble scholars of the
day, at the same time promoting the Catholic faith among his friends.
the winter of 1783, his father, Yi Tong-uk, was assigned to go
to Peking as a chancellor of the envoys group. Yi Byok and
others of the Catholic study group urged Yi Sung-hun to accompany
his father. They arrived in Peking in December of that year.
40 days of his stay in Peking, Yi Sung-hun frequently visited
the North Catholic Church and asked the western priests there
to baptize him. Father Louis de Grammont, a French ex-Jesuit
missionary, after having asked him questions in writing, decided
that he was well qualified for baptism. He baptized Yi Sung-hun
in February of 1784 and gave him the name of Peter. When
he returned he became the first to organize a Catholic faith community
in Korea. This incident marks the beginning of the Catholic
Church, made up entirely of lay people in Korea.
returned to Seoul with many Catholic books, crosses, rosaries,
statues, etc. and gave them to Yi Byok. He also baptized
his associates. Yi Byok whom Peter baptized and gave the
name of John the Baptist, taught and baptized Kwon Ch’ol-shin
and his brother Kwon Il-shin, Chong Yak-jong, Chong Yak-jon, Chong
Yak-yong (three brothers), Kim Bom-u and many others. Since
the number of believers had increased, Yi Byok made the house
of Kim Bom-u in Seoul (the present site of Myongdong Cathedral)
a sort of church, and held Sunday celebrations there. Thus
the Catholic Church, made up of lay people only, was founded in
is the only country in the world throughout the centuries, where
the Catholic Church was founded, not by foreign missionaries,
but spontaneously by the native people themselves. The Catholic
Church is very proud of this fact. The Catholic in those
days called one another "believing friends", abolished class distinctions,
stopped offering sacrifices to their ancestors and spread the
faith, using books written in the Korean alphabet which is different
from the Chinese characters.
Catholic community, which had been so miraculously founded, was
detected by the government officials in March of 1785, and the
Catholics were dispersed. Kim Bom-u, who had allowed his
house be used as a sort of church, was arrested, suffered severe
tortures and died two years later in exile. This was the
first persecution suffered by the early Catholics.
Two years later, Yi Sung-hun organized a Catholic group anew.
Kwon Il-shin, Yi Sung-hun, Yi Tan-won, Yu-Hang-gom and Ch’oe Ch’ang-hyon
made themselves priests. They offered Sunday Masses and
administered sacraments. However, they soon realized that
this was a mistake and stopped practicing it. They sent
Yun Yu-il to Peking in 1789 to consult the bishop of Peking for
necessary guidance. The missionaries in Peking advised him
to make efforts to introduce priests into Korea.
Il-shin and his associates kept asking the bishop of Peking (Gouvéa)
to send priests to Korea. The bishop of Peking finally assigned
a Chinese priest, O (Jean dos Remedios), to go to Korea.
But he failed to enter Korea because he missed the guide who was
supposed to lead him to Korea.
reason for a new persecution was the fact that Yun Chi-ch’ung
Paul, a man of the nobility, refused to offer a sacrifice to his
deceased mother. As he was noble man and a government official,
he was supposed to offer such a sacrifice. Other noble people,
who were displeased with this incident, sent repeated reports
to the king, denouncing the Catholic religion as a heresy.
The king finally ordered Yun Chi-ch’ung to be sentenced to death
on December 7, 1791.
mourning dress of Korea.
Missionaries of the last century wore this garb
with its huge woven-basket headpiece as they moved around the
countryside. They were able to avoid detection and arrest, as
custom had it
that those in mourning were not to be stopped or disturbed by
in 1794, a Chinese priest, Chu Mun-mo Vellozo, was assigned for
Korea. He was successful in entering Korea on December 23,
1794. However, he became an occasion for another persecution,
because the central government tortured many Catholics in order
to locate him. Ch’o In-gil Matthew and a few others were
killed during this persecution.
- A letter from China
August 16, 1836
There are in China approximately 40 European priests and 80 Chinese
priests. This is a minute number of labourers, even for
the actual number of Christians. In many provinces, there
are occasional conversions among pagans, but in the midst of such
an enormous population, it barely makes a perceptible difference.
day a young pagan was admitted in a room where I was seated.
He sat right in front of me and examined me with such minute care
as to seem to want to draw my portrait. Then he left, fully
satisfied, did he say, to have seen... a European nose!
It has been his heart’s desire to contemplate at least once in
his life this marvel because he had heard his father, who had
seen our venerable Fr. Clet, say that a European man had a longer
nose than a Chinese.
mention of Fr. Clet reminds me to tell you the joy I have to be
able to work in this part of the Lord’s vineyard which Fr. Clet
cultivated with such zeal and success. But can you not send
us a whole squadron of St. Francis Xaviers for our China who needs
it so badly? May God increase our number, sanctify us and
fill us with his spirit.
The conversion of China depends also on the prayers said by Christians
of Europe (- and of the whole world - Ed.) for this country.
"Pray for one another that you may be saved; the prayer of the
just, done with fervour, has a great power." (James V, 16)
you see prayers rising to heaven from all side increasing, intensifying,
then, all of you from afar, are in a better position than we who
are here, to judge if the kingdom of God is near for this powerful
a consolation it would be for the Church to see entering the fold
a whole people so remarkable, so attractive such as the Chinese
people! Now, if all children would join their hands and
storm the Father of Mercies, soon or late they would obtain this
great miracle in spite of the obstacles which seem to render this
members of the Association for the Propagation of the Faith took
this noble mission on themselves. Please God, all those
who are brothers in Jesus Christ will be enkindled with such a
zeal for the interests of Our Divine King, will enroll themselves
in the same spiritual campaign and take the weapons of prayer
to pursue this warfare which will bring the ruin of Satan’s empire.
Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, P.M.
First Saint of China, martyred
September 10, 1840
Correspondance, St. J.G. Perboyre, C.M., Rome, 1996, Letter