A saint who lived in Macau

Saint Anthony’s parish celebrates feast of Saint Andrew Kim on Sept 20

Marco Carvalho

“Saint Andrew Kim is to South Korea what Saint Anthony is to Portugal”. The verdict belongs to Father James Ryu Jae Hyoung. With a bold, undaunted synopsis, the South Korean priest who has been in charge of Saint Anthony’s parish since early June, explains why Macau – and the Church where he now proclaims the Gospel and works toward the salvation of souls – has a central role in the emotional geography of South Korean Catholics.

Commemorated by the Catholic Church on September 20th, Saint Andrew Kim Taegon was fifteen years old when he was sent by the then incipient Korean Catholic community to study philosophy and theology in Macau, where he arrived in July 1837. Back then, the Paris Foreign Missions Society – les Missions Étrangères de Paris – had a house of correspondence not far from Camões Garden.

During the five years he spent in Macau, the future martyr attended Saint Anthony’s Church as a devoted and truehearted young seminarian. “In the same way that the Portuguese people show a great devotion to Saint Anthony, we, Koreans, have a great devotion and a great affection for Saint Andrew Kim. On the one hand, because he is, obviously, both the first priest and the first Korean saint. On the other hand, because we consider him an example for others to follow. This is one of the reasons why we are so keen on studying his life, the time he spent in Macau, why he was detained by the Korean authorities and subsequently martyred,” says Father Ryu Jae Hyoung.

“Saint Anthony’s Church is a very special place for Korean Catholics because in the first half of the 19th century, not far from here, in Camões Garden, there was a formation house belonging to the Paris Foreign Missions. Saint Andrew Kim and two other seminarians attended this formation house where they studied philosophy and theology. This is the reason why so many Korean pilgrims visit Saint Anthony’s Church. To visit Macau is a way for them to confirm what they already knew about Saint Andrew Kim and their own faith: that Macau is involved in the genesis of South Korean Catholicism. It was in Macau that Saint Andrew really understood that his destiny was to proclaim the Gospel and to spread the word of God,” the South Korean missionary adds.

If it is true that Macau holds a special place in the heart of South Korean Catholics who do not forget the role that Saint Anthony’s Church had in the formation of the first Korean priest and in the subsequent spread of Catholicism in the Korean peninsula, Saint Anthony’s parish also did not forget the most notable of its former parishioners. The parish hosted a novena from September 12th in honor of Saint Andrew Kim. Beloved in his native country, the patron saint of South Korea, Father James Ryu claims, is increasingly venerated by local Catholics. “When I arrived in Macau, the novena had already been celebrated for quite a few years. Local Catholics knew that Saint Andrew Kim had studied in Macau, they knew who he was. When the Congregation of the Blessed Korean Martyrs was entrusted with Saint Anthony’s parish, one of the missions we took responsibility for was to familiarize a greater number of people with Saint Andrew’s life and legacy. He was the first Korean priest, and he is one of the martyrs of the Korean Church. I might be wrong, but the impression that I get is that people know more about him and respect him more and more nowadays, perhaps because they are aware how important he is for Korea,” Saint Anthony’s parish priest says.

Some of the evidence that devotion to the patron saint of Korea is becoming increasingly strong in Macau is the fact that more and more people take part in the annual novena that precedes the celebration on September 20th of the liturgical feast of Saint Andrew Kim, Saint Paul Chong Hasang and their martyred companions.

The novena started on Tuesday, September 12th, and on September 20th, Saint Anthony’s parish celebrated the liturgical feast of Saint Andrew Kim with a solemn Eucharistic celebration presided over by Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang. Fr James recalls: “If I am not wrong, the novena was organized for the first time ever in 2008 or 2009. It begins on September 12th and September 20th is the day on which the Catholic Church celebrates the liturgical feast of Saint Andrew Kim and Saint Paul Chong Hasang.”

A beacon of light for the world youth

Martyred in 1846 at the age of 25, Saint Andrew Kim Taegon is, Father James asserts, an example for the younger generations in South Korea, and also for the thousands of young Catholics who are expected in Seoul in August 2027 for the 38th World Youth Day.

The largest youth pilgrimage in the world makes a return to the Asian continent thirty-two years after Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, hosted the event. Pope Francis announced on August 6 that Seoul will host the event in 2027, while Rome, Italy, will host a gathering for young people during the jubilee year of 2025.

The choice of South Korea – a country where less than ten per cent of the population is Catholic – to host the world largest youth meeting, the South Korean missionary believes, didn’t happen by chance. It expresses, instead, Pope Francis’ thoughtful approach to the Asian reality.

“To host the next World Youth Day is something very special both for South Korea and the Asian continent. I think that Pope Francis, when he chose South Korea, he was thinking about the prosperity, peace and harmony of the whole of Asia. We are witnessing an increasing number of crises in this part of the planet, but, in my opinion, countries like Japan, China, South Korea, North Korea and Russia, all that they want is peace and freedom,” the South Korean missionary maintains.

“To organize the World Youth Day is a good opportunity for us to share our beliefs, our values and our identity with Catholics from all over the world, as well as with people who profess other beliefs and follow other religions. There is a great diversity in Asia, and we have very different ways of thinking and acting. And this is why I believe World Youth Day is an opportunity. It is a great chance to bring people together,” Saint Anthony’s parish priest states.

The latest edition of the largest youth gathering promoted by the Catholic Church took around a hundred local Catholics to Portugal. The geographical proximity between Macau and South Korea should mean that an even greater number of local youngsters might eventually travel to Seoul. World Youth Day will not take place for another four years, but Father James Ryu Jae Hyoung wants to help to pave the way to a memorable presence of the Macau delegation in one of the largest religious events ever organized in the Korean peninsula.

“We are Koreans, we know the Korean Church and the Korean people quite well and, obviously, we have mastery over the language. I think it might be easier for us to introduce our traditions and our culture, the good and not so good things of Korean society, to those that are willing to be part of World Youth Day. I can help local Catholics who wish to participate in this great event,” the South Korean priests assures.