· Helen Kyung Soo Kwon tells the story of a martyr from the first Korean Catholic Community who will be beatified by Pope Francis ·
Kang Wan Suk, catechist and martyr of the first Catholic Korean community, was
These are the words of Helen Kyung Soo Kwon, an elegant woman of gentle ways who speaks English extremely well and is so involved in her community that took two months to fix an appointment with her. A brief look at her cv gives one and idea of the breadth of her involvement. She was President of the Archdiocese of Seoul’s Catholic Women’s Organization; Vice-President for the Archdiocese of Seoul’s Council for Laity; a Member of the Lay Apostolate’s Sub-Committee on Women; President of the Organization for Korean Catholic Women; Member of the steering Committee for Pro-Life activities for the Korean Bishops’Conference; and currently a member of the permanent Council for the World Union of Organizations of Catholic Women.
There hasn’t been much written on the history
of Christianity in
Colomba Kwang Wan Suk will be beatified by Pope Francis this August. Can
you tell us her story? “Columba was an illegitimate child but she belonged to
a nobile family. She married Hong Ji-yeong, who already had a son from a prior union. It wasn’t until this
Kyung Soo Kwon explains to
Columba became familiar with the Catholic religion through reading books
written by Jesuits and those who had come from
At that time, Helen Kyung Soo Kwon continued, “there was no truly organized Catholic community. It
was only with the arrival to the
The decision to host a man at her
home, even a priest, was a strong break with the conventions at the time,
especially when one considers that nobile women could not even leave their
homes during the day. They waited until evening when the streets were deserted.
As late as 1897 Elizabeth Bird wrote that at around 8pm the great bells in
Helen Kyung Soo Kwon smiles: “Of course, Columba was a true leader and precursor for women’s emancipation. I also think of her decision to leave a husband, who preferred a concubine to her. Many women at the time silently endured the presence of another woman in their home. It was through her great charism, together with the work of Fr. James, that the royal family entered the Catholic Church”.
Helen Kyung Soo Kwon continues: “The half-brother of the King, Mary Song and her
adopted daughter Mary Sin - also relatives of the royal family - all received
baptism from Fr. James. With Christianity then came the first female presidents
of the Catholic associations. Even before the
We already know the end of the
story, but we ask Helen Kyung Soo
Kwon to recount it for us. How did
Columba die? “During the Sinyu persecution in 1801, Columba was
reported for her religious activities. She was arrested on 6 April, together
with other faithful who were in her home. She was tortured at length in an
attempt to make her reveal the location where Fr. James was hiding, but she
give in. On 2 July of the same year, she was condemned to death. She was
St. Peter’s Square
Dec. 14, 2019
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