People may not know that there is a history of Christianity in the Far East that began with (but was not) limited to the activity of St Francis Xavier. This includes India, the Philippines, Japan, China, and Korea.
The remarkable thing about the evangelization of Korea was that it was begun by and sustained for decades by lay missionaries. Priests (originally from France) came only later. But St Andrew Kim Taegon was a native Korean priest; in fact, his father also died a martyr for the Faith.
But there is a similarity between the world of St Andrew and the world, today, of the other Kim: Kim Jong Un. In both cases, the peninsula of Korea was closed to all contact with the outside world other than bringing annual payment of taxes to China. It was then, and is now (in North Korea, at least) a society shut in on itself.
One author makes a pertinent comment: “We marvel at the act that the Korean Church was strictly a lay church for a dozen years after its birth. How did they survive without the Eucharist? It is no belittling of this and other sacraments to realize that there must be a living faith before there can be a truly beneficial celebration of the Eucharist….The sacraments increase grace and faith, but only if there is something ready to be increased.” St Andrew Kim Taegon was ready.
Secrecy is the mark of fear, and fear is the mark of the deeply-held conviction that what is being imposed as “reality” is wrong. This fear led him to order the execution of his uncle, and likely involved him in the more recent assassination of his brother. It’s for this reason that someone (albeit not fully seriously) suggested that the end of Kim Jong Un’s power could be brought about by airlifting perhaps 20 million smart phones (with free WIFI)—letting folks in the North know what is happening in the rest of the world would end the ability to impose his “reality” on the people. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” Jesus said (Jn 8:32). St Andrew Kim Taegon knew this and embraced it with love. Kim Jong Un, not so much…
This mix of secrecy and fear, sadly, can apply to the Catholic Church, as well. Why should trials of those accused of deviance from the Faith be secret, even to the point of the accused not knowing his accuser? Why should deliberations for new bishops be secret? Why should conclaves to elect a new pope be secret? What is to be gained by secrecy? What is feared to be lost by openness? Kim Jong Un knows the answers to these questions; do we?
Faith is a critical virtue. Kim Taegon and his family had it. But they also chose it. The people of the regime of Kim Jong Un have a “faith,” but it is only the faith of a perspective that sees 1 choice only as an option. If there were options 2, 3, 4… who knows what would happen? People choose because they love, and we know who and what St Andrew Kim Taegon was in love with…
St Andrew Kim Taegon and his companions knew the choices: they opted for openness and Jesus Christ. After all, it is the Scripture itself that reminds us that the Truth would set us free, that perfect love casts out fear; that only those whose deeds are evil refuse to come to the Light.
St Andrew Kim Taegon was not afraid; Kim Jong Un is. Are we?