The founders of churches throughout the world have an important place in our church calendar, because they did what Jesus commanded: “Go out to the whole world and preach the gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 25 )
Church founders are apostles like Peter and Paul, founders of the church in Rome, (June 29), or monk-bishops like Boniface, founder of the church of the Germanic peoples, (June 5), Patrick, founder of the church in Ireland, (March 17) Ansgar, founder of the church in Scandanavia, (February 3), Cyril and Methodius, founders of the church in the Slavic nations (February14).
The church in Korea, whose founding we celebrate today, can be traced back to the 17th century. Its foundation is special, as Pope John Paul II noted at the canonization of the Korean Martyrs, May 6, 1984:
“The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by laypeople. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these many martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today’s splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians of the Church of Silence in the north of this tragically divided land.” – Pope John Paul II at the canonization of the Korean Martyrs, May 6, 1984.
A priest, Andrew Kim Taegon and a layman Paul Chong Hasang, head the list of 103 martyrs canonized in 1984, but the early Korean church was from the first a church of laypeople. Decades before those celebrated today, it was without priests or bishops. All lay people, they kept faith alive at great cost and offered it to others.
By its nature, the Catholic Church draws from its member churches the gifts God has given them. The church is the body of Christ. May our churches today, old and new, be blessed with lay people like those who founded the church in Korea.
The Second Vatican Council, 60 years or so ago, called for increasing the role of the laity in the Catholic Church. It seems to me that goal has still to be met, at least in my country.
“Once again, Jesus sends lay people into every town and place where he will come (cf.Luke 10:1) so that they may show that they are co-workers in the various forms and modes of the one apostolate of the Church, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of our times. Ever productive as they should be in the work of the Lord, they know that their labor in him is not in vain (cf. 1 Cor.15:58).” (Decree on Laity, 33)
O God, who have been pleased to increase your adopted children in all the world, and who made the blood of the Martyrs Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gǒn and his companions a most fruitful seed of Christians, grant that we may be defended by their help and profit always from their example.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.Amen.