By Malie Hudson
“I feel so lucky to be a Catholic,” said 11-year-old Christina Bae as her eyes lit up, dressed in a colorful traditional Korean hanbok, just before the Kickoff Mass for the 200th Jubilee of the birth of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon, Korea’s first Catholic priest and martyr.
St. Andrew Kim was born in 1821 and beheaded in Seoul on September 16, 1846, during widespread persecutions under the Joseon Dynasty. Pope St. John Paul II canonized St. Andrew Kim and 103 other Korean martyrs on May 6, 1984, in Seoul. The Church celebrates their Feast Day on September 20.
“My mom taught me a lot about St. Andrew Kim as a Saint and what he did to bring the Catholic faith to Korea,” said Bae. “I think it was very brave of him and I know that some people risked their lives to be a Catholic.”
Bae’s family, parishioners of St. Thomas Korean Catholic Center in Anaheim, joined 300 Korean Catholics and members of other ethnic ministries at St. Andrew Kim Parish in Riverside on May 1 to celebrate the Kickoff Mass, blessing of outdoor Stations of the Cross and ribbon-cutting ceremony for an art gallery highlighting the life of the Korean martyr.
Mary Kang, a parishioner at St. Andrew Kim Church in Riverside, was teary-eyed after experiencing the day’s events.
“It’s very emotional,” she said. “My whole family is in Korea. My whole family is Catholic. My grandfather was also Catholic. St. Andrew Kim has a big meaning to us. Every Korean Catholic knows about St. Andrew Kim.”
Pointing to a prayer card in Korean characters with a photo of the Saint, she said, “My family in Korea is praying this same prayer. They’re doing Mass there and praying and celebrating and visiting the house where he grew up in Korea.”
According to Sister Maria Jennifer Nguyen, L.H.C., Director of the Diocesan Office of Asian Pacific Ministry, there are about 200 Korean Catholics in the Diocese with communities in Riverside, Victorville, Hesperia and Temecula.
The Korean Catholic Church in South Korea received permission last year to confer Catholic indulgences to believers during the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. Andrew Kim. The May 1 event kicked-off a year-long celebration at the Riverside parish that includes weekly opportunities to receive confession and plenary indulgences, English and Korean Masses, a unique occasion to venerate a relic of the revered saint, stations of the cross and an art gallery with displays of original art and replicas from Korea.
The art gallery also features a section for children’s artwork, centering around the theme, “Are you Catholic?” That was the question posed to St. Andrew Kim moments before he was killed. Students from Riverside and Orange Counties drew inspiration from the Saint’s courage to create their art pieces. More artworks will fill the wall as students from schools in the Diocese submit their work throughout the Jubilee Year. Christina and her 12-year-old sister, Stella, are among the first group of young artists to have their pieces displayed on the wall.
“It was an opportunity to learn more about the Saint,” said Stella. “I drew St. Andrew Kim because I learned that he was a brave Korean man who traveled the world to get to know Catholics and priests. He came back to Korea and wanted to spread the Catholic faith. The government wanted him killed and when they asked him if he was a Catholic, he said ‘yes’ and they killed him. If he said no, he could have lived longer because he was a smart man, but he still said ‘yes.’ He had a strong belief even though he was going to be killed.
“I feel I could learn to get to know Jesus and God more like St. Andrew Kim. I could be more of a better Catholic.”
The Bae family was part of a team responsible for decorating a section of the gallery. Susanna Huh was also a part of that team.
“We were assigned to cover his martyrdom in the gallery, so how he was arrested and what he went through, his torture and how he died,” she said. “We found beautiful pictures of his very last letter he wrote just 15 days before he was executed, and it was addressed to his Catholic brethren. It’s beautiful and phenomenal.”
A large banner sized photo of the letter is hung in the gallery, next to a big screen playing a documentary film about the Saint’s life.
Monica Song, St. Andrew Kim Parish Business Manager and lead organizer for the Jubilee event, was touched by the generosity of everyone who collaborated to organize the event.
“We thought about it for a long time but with Covid-19, we thought it wasn’t going to happen,” said Song. “It was last minute, but Bishop Rojas said we needed to do this. Every little part, from gardening, to clean up, everybody was involved. We were all there together. It was God who made this happen for us. It matched the theme, ‘Are you Catholic?’ Every Catholic in our parish, in our Diocese, they all gave every effort and I want to say thank you to everybody.”
The Riverside parish is one of two churches in California named after the Saint, with the other in Oakland. During the Jubilee year, the parish is offering the following opportunities to receive plenary indulgences:
Friday – 10 a.m. Korean Mass. Church, individual outdoor Stations of the Cross on the hillside and gallery are open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday – No Mass. Church, Stations of the Cross and Gallery are open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Sunday – 10 a.m. Korean Mass. Individual outdoor Stations of the Cross on the hillside and gallery opens at 1 pm. Confession at 2 pm. English Mass at 3 pm.
The schedule is subject to change. Please call the parish office at 951-533-0580 to confirm times or schedule large groups (due to county Covid-19 regulations). Song encourages schools to send in artwork for the children’s wall that could also be an opportunity to learn more about St. Andrew Kim.
There will also be a Feast Day Mass with Bishop Rojas on September 19 at 11 a.m. and Closing Mass on November 20 at 3 p.m. to close the jubilee year.
Malie Hudson is a freelance writer based in Riverside.