Strong laity continues martyrs' legacy in South Korea

Missionary priest Kim Taegon

When Pope Francis visits South Korea next month, he will find a highly active Catholic laity, extensive efforts to help the needy and strong relations with non-Christian communities, reports the Catholic News Service.

So says a retired American missionary who spent nearly half a century building up Catholicism in the country. Bishop William McNaughton, 87, arrived in Korea as a Maryknoll missionary in 1954 and served as the first bishop of Inchon from 1962 until his retirement 2002.

The Bishop, who spoke with Catholic News Service by telephone last week, will be watching Pope Francis' visit next month on television from Massachusetts, where he lives with one of his sisters. 'The blood of martyrs is why the Church is so strong in Korea,' the Bishop said, noting the more than 10,000 Korean Catholics killed for their faith between 1785 and 1886, 124 of whom Pope Francis will beatify during his visit from August 14-18.

To this day, they talk about it, they urge people to have the spirit of the martyrs,' the Bishop said.

One legacy of that persecution is an extraordinarily prominent role for lay Catholics. The Church was founded in the late 18th century by laypeople who embraced Catholicism after studying it in books imported from China, and for more than half of its first century, it had to survive without the ministry of clergy.

That tradition manifests itself today in the popularity of ecclesial movements such as the Legion of Mary, Cursillo, Marriage Encounter and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Bishop McNaughton says. What's more, he says, 'everybody sings' in Church.

In Korea, the 'evangelisers are not so much the priests and the sisters as the very persons themselves, the Catholic laity. Once they get the faith, they propagate it among themselves. They know how to spread the faith.'

FULL STORY Papal visit to South Korea: Legacy of martyrs, lay leadership lives on (CNS)

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