The first Catholics in Korea suffered terrible persecution but planted the seed for a thriving Church in Korea today.

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The feast of the Korean martyrs commemorates generations of Koreans who died for the faith, the majority of them lay people. Christianity had come to Korea during the Japanese invasion in 1592 when some Koreans were baptized, probably by Christian Japanese soldiers. However, Korea refused all contact with the outside world, making the introduction of Christianity very difficult. Nonetheless, literature did enter and when a Chinese priest did manage to enter secretly towards the end of the 18th century, he found 4,000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest.

Andrew Kim Taegon was the first native Korean priest, martyred in 1846, shortly after his priestly ordination. He was the son of Korean converts and his father, Ignatius Kim, was martyred during the persecution of 1839 and was beatified in 1925.

Andrew, after Baptism at the age of 15, traveled to the seminary in Macao, China. After six years he managed to return to Korea. That same year he crossed the Yellow Sea to Shanghai and was ordained a priest. Back home again, he was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded.

Paul Chong Hasang was a Korean lay apostle and married man, martyred aged 45.

When Pope John Paul II visited Korea in 1984, he canonized, besides Andrew and Paul, 98 Koreans and three French missionaries who had been martyred between 1839 and 1867. Among them were bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay persons: 47 women, 45 men.