Seosomun Park will be redesigned as religious site

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Seosomun Park will be redesigned as religious site

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The memorial tower for Catholic martyrs is located in Seosomun Park. The park will be remodeled to serve as part of a Catholic pilgrimage route. By Kim Kyung-bin

The Vatican announced last Saturday that it would beatify 124 martyrs who died during two major persecutions in Korea in 1791 and 1801, around the time Catholicism was first introduced in the country.

In celebration of the announcement, Seosomun Park, where many of the martyrs were decapitated, will be turned into a historical park, a district official said.

“We are planning to bring back the historical value of the area,” said a district official from the Jung District Office yesterday. “The beatification by the Vatican is expected to drive the project forward.”

The Archdiocese of Seoul, which regards the Seosomun area as holy, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, which seeks to expand the city’s parks, also promised their cooperation.

Seosomun, where 84 people died as martyrs, is a sacred place for many Korean Catholics, and one of the biggest such sites in the country. Forty-four out of the 103 people who were canonized as saints in 1984, and 21 out of the 124 people who were beatified last Saturday were beheaded in Seosomun. It was used as an execution field primarily for political prisoners during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) who committed crimes against the state. And because the area was a major trading venue, it was easy for the regime to arouse the public’s attention.

However, the park, built in 1995, didn’t get very popular since it was isolated between roads and railroads, and its identity blurred with sports equipment and a statue of a historic figure that has nothing to do with the Catholicism. Homeless people are also frequently found since it is located close to the Seoul Station, the base for those living on the streets.

The Jung District Office said it is planning to redesign the park to turn it into a memorial site, similar to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York or the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The Seoul Archdiocese is also building a church to pay tribute to the martyrs.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government seeks to connect the park with other martyr shrines so that the belt can serve as a tourist attraction and a pilgrimage route for Catholics.

“Religious remains and history are always a central part of the tourism industry in every nation,” said an official of the Seoul government. “We are considering ways of linking our religious heritage together.”


BY KANG IN-SIK [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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