Today while I was having my nails done, I struck up a conversation with the shop owner, who was sitting beside me. Another customer and I commented on the beautifully ornate palm weaving that hung from the shop wall; turns out a Catholic customer from the Dominican Republic had given it to her after Palm Sunday. Then, as the conversation proceeded, I discovered the Korean-born shop owner is Catholic and that she and I are parishioners at the same church. She prefers the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass, while my family tends to go at 11 a.m.
This conversation continued as her employee was applying polish to my nails and then, as I waited for my nails to dry. It was a reminder to me during Holy Week of how vast and beautiful the Church is and also of what sacrifices believers have made for our faith.
J. is a third-generation Korean Catholic and she spoke to me about the persecution of Korean Catholics suffered during the late 19th century. Today, the Catholic Church thrives in South Korea; 10 percent of the population is baptized in the Church. It moves me deeply to consider that thousands of Koreans have been willing to die, rather than to renounce Christ.
When I returned home from J’s salon, I read up a bit on the Martyrs of Korea. The first two centuries of Catholicism in Korea riddled with massacres against believing Catholics. The worst happened in 1864, when a new persecution claimed the lives of two bishops, six French missionaries, another Korean priest, and eight thousand Korean Catholics. Pope John Paul II canonized the Korean martyrs of 1839, 1846, and 1867 in 1984 in Seoul. Their feast day is Sept. 20.
He said then:”The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the Martyrs. Even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land.”