Pope grants beatification of 124 Korean martyrs

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Pope grants beatification of 124 Korean martyrs

Pope Francis has approved the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs killed for their Catholic belief in the 18th and 19th centuries, raising expectations further that he will visit Korea in August.

The Vatican said Saturday in a statement that the Pope authorized the beatification of Paul Yun Ji-chung, the first Korean martyr, and 123 martyrs who were executed between 1791 and 1888 for their Catholic belief by the Confucian Joseon Dynasty.

In Catholicism, beatification is the last formal step before sainthood.

The first martyr, Yun, entered the Catholic faith because his uncle, John Jeong Yak-yong, a renowned scholar, was also a Catholic believer. Yun was executed because he refused to hold the traditional Confucian memorial to honor his dead mother.

Expectations are rising that Francis will visit Korea to lead the beatification ceremony scheduled on Aug. 15 following a Vatican spokesman’s comment in January that a papal visit to Korea was under consideration.

“Although nothing has been decided officially, the possibility is growing of the Pope’s visit to Korea to carry out the beatification ceremony slated for Aug. 15,” a Blue House official told reporters yesterday.

In 1984, Pope John Paul II visited Korea for the canonization ceremony of 103 Korean martyrs including Andrew Kim Tae-gon, the first Korean native priest.

The Archdiocese of Seoul expressed gratitude for the beatification.

“We sincerely welcome the Vatican’s decision on the beatification of Paul Yun Ji-chung and his 123 fellow martyrs,” a statement by the archdiocese said on its Website Saturday.

Some Vatican sources told AsiaNew.it, a religious news provider, that the pope plans a special Mass on Aug. 18 in South Korea before he returns to Italy, which would be “dedicated solely to North Korea” and the Mass “represents a direct appeal to Pyongyang for peace and reunification.”

The decision on the beatifications came after a long effort by the Korean Catholic church to honor Korean martyrs. In 1997, the church formed “a special committee for beatification and canonization for Korean martyrs.” In 2009, after scrutinizing the qualification of Korean martyrs, the church submitted a petition to the Vatican citing 125 Korean martyrs.

Rev. Thomas Choi Yang-eop (1821-61), Korea’s second ordained priest, is the only one among the 125 proposed candidates who was not authorized for beatification. But the Vatican is reportedly taking steps to include Choi on the list.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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