Rome (Agenzia Fides) Published with permission.
Witnessing to the Gospel in times of persecution “can bear much fruit for the faith”. This is attested by dozens of witnesses and martyrs who confessed their faith in Christ in unfavorable circumstances and in times of persecution. Saints like Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gon, the first native priest of Korea and a martyr for the faith, re-proposed today by Pope Francis are among the figures of “exemplary witnesses” who “teach us apostolic zeal”.
The Bishop of Rome dedicated the new catechesis of the cycle dedicated to the passion for the proclamation of the Gospel to the Korean martyr saint, pronounced during today’s general audience, Wednesday 24 May. The Pope also recalled that the first proclamation of the Gospel in Korea was the work of the laity: “It was the baptized laity who transmitted the faith, there were no priests, because they had none. Then, later… but the first evangelization was done by the laity. Would we – asked the Pontiff – be capable of something like that?”
About 200 years ago – Pope Francis recalled when presenting the figure of Saint Andrew Kim – “the Korean land was the scene of a very severe persecution: Christians were persecuted and annihilated. At that time, believing in Jesus Christ in Korea meant being ready to bear witness even unto death”.
In this context, Andrea Kim had to adopt stratagems even to communicate with his brothers in faith. To recognize other Christians – the Pope recalled – “first, there was a previously agreed upon sign of recognition: You will meet with this Christian and he will have this sign on his outfit or in his hand; And after that, he would surreptitiously ask the question—but all this under his breath, are you a disciple of Jesus?”
Since other people were watching the conversation, the saint had to speak in a low voice, saying only a few words, the most essential ones. So, for Andrew Kim, the expression that summed up the whole identity of the Christian was “disciple of Christ.” “Are you a disciple of Christ?”- but in a soft voice because it was dangerous. It was forbidden to be a Christian there”.
The Christian – the Pope pointed out, starting from the events of the life of Saint Andrew Kim – “is by nature one who preaches and bears witness to Jesus. Every Christian community receives this identity from the Holy Spirit, and so does the whole Church, since the day of Pentecost. It is from this Spirit that we receive the passion, the passion for evangelization, this great apostolic zeal; it is a gift of the Spirit Who gives”. “And even if the surrounding context is not favorable—like the Korean context of Andrew Kim—it does not change; on the contrary, it becomes even more valuable. St Andrew Kim and other Korean believers have demonstrated that witnessing to the Gospel in times of persecution can bear much fruit for the faith.
In the concluding part of his catechesis, Pope Francis also recounted the time when, as a young seminarian, in order to secretly welcome Catholic missionaries from abroad, Saint Andrew Kim had to walk in the snow, without eating, for so long that he fell to the ground exhausted, risking unconsciousness and freezing. At that point, he suddenly heard a voice calling him to get up and start walking again. “Hearing that voice, Andrew came to his senses, catching a glimpse of something like a shadow of someone guiding him. This experience of the great Korean witness” continued the Bishop of Rome “makes us understand a very important aspect of apostolic zeal; namely, the courage to get back up when one falls”.
Even saints fall, the Pope recalled, and this has happened “from the earliest times: Think of St Peter: he committed a great sin, but he found strength in God’s mercy and got up again”. No matter how difficult the situation may be – the Pope continued – “we must not give up and we must not forsake pursuing what is essential in our Christian life: namely, evangelization”. Inspired by the example of the great saints, each of us can, “in our own small way” can “evangelize the family, evangelize friends, talk about Jesus, but talk about Jesus and evangelize with a heart full of joy, full of strength. And this – the Pope concluded “is given by the Holy Spirit. Let us prepare to receive the Holy Spirit this coming Pentecost, and ask Him for that grace, the grace of apostolic courage, the grace to evangelize, to always carry the message of Jesus forward”.
In concluding the Audience, Pope Francis also recalled that today, May 24, is the World Day of Prayer for the Catholic Church in China, coinciding with “the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians, venerated and invoked in the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan, in Shanghai”. On this occasion, the Successor of Peter wanted to “offer an assurance of my remembrance and express my closeness to our brothers and sisters in China, sharing in their joys and hopes”. The Pope wanted to address “a special thought” to “all those who suffer, pastors and faithful, that in the communion and solidarity of the universal Church they may experience consolation and encouragement.
I invite everyone” added the Pontiff “to raise their prayers to God that the Good News of Christ crucified and risen may be proclaimed in its fullness, beauty, and freedom, bearing fruit for the good of the Catholic Church and all of Chinese society”.
(GV) (Agenzia Fides, 24/5/2023) Published with permission.