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South Korea’s cardinal tells story of Vatican’s newest saint statue


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I.Media - published on 09/15/23

St. Peter's Basilica will be getting a new statue of the Korean martyr, St. Andrew Kim Taegon. Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik talks about this saint's witness.

On September 16, 2023, a statue of St. Andrew Kim Taegon (1821-1846) will be unveiled in one of the niches of St. Peter’s Basilica, on his feast day and anniversary of his martyrdom. This great figure of Asian Catholicism played an important role in the conversion and priestly vocation of Korean Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy.

The cardinal spoke to I.MEDIA about how this saint can help the Catholic Church “rediscover the enthusiasm of proclaiming the Gospel,” particularly in the West.

What does the installation of the statue of St. Andrew Kim Taegon on the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica signify for Korean Catholics?

Cardinal You Heung-sik: As one can imagine, it is a moment of great joy for the Korean people and in particular for the Catholics. The occasion, besides recalling the importance of the figure of St. Andrew Kim, allows the faithful of the Korean Church to feel like a living part of the catholicity of the Church, to feel a deeper closeness and communion with the Church of Rome and with the Chair of Peter. This is a great gift that encourages and fills the heart with joy.

In your book “Just as lightning comes from the East” (“Come la folgore viene da Oriente,” Edizioni San Paolo, 2023) you talk about St. Andrew Kim Taegon as an important figure in your life. Who is St. Andrew Kim Taegon to you personally? What does he represent? 

Cardinal You Heung-sik: As I’ve explained, at the origin of my vocation there were no extraordinary events, but a journey lived out in simple everyday life. When I came into contact with Christianity, I was immediately fascinated by the life, mission and, above all, the heroic courage of Andrew Kim, who was a young man like me. He was only 25 and, looking at his example, I said to myself: I want to live life like that too, to the full, without wasting it. That was the start of a journey that gradually led me to discover the beauty of God’s love and the vocation to the priesthood.

What do you think is the most powerful aspect of St. Andrew Kim Taegon’s life and witness?

Cardinal You Heung-sik: When confronted with stories like Andrew Kim’s, we have to think about what is the true meaning of Christian martyrdom. It’s not an isolated heroic gesture, that is, something that happens in a specific circumstance and requires one to sacrifice their life. It is much more than that. It is the summit, the most eloquent sign and therefore the synthesis of all of life’s journey. Physical martyrdom is therefore the culmination of a life lived evangelically, that is, a life spent in love. The strongest aspect is therefore this: Andrew tells us that a life spent in love — even if it costs sacrifices — comes back to you in abundance, fills you with joy, opens the way to good relationships, initiates you into true joy, which never fades.

St. Andrew Kim Taegon takes his place alongside the great saints of the Church’s history, often from the West, in these niches in Saint Peter’s Basilica. As a saint, what aspect of the Good News do you think he can particularly reveal to Catholics in the West?

Cardinal You Heung-sik: What Pope Francis has often repeated, notably during a general audience dedicated to Andrew Kim: ardor, passion, enthusiasm for the Gospel. The West has a remarkable heritage, a very rich history, an ancient Christianity that retains much potential; but, at the same time, it has a tired face, it is often sucked in by the effects of its own emancipation, it is threatened by an individualistic and consumerist lifestyle. And in this scenario, even the Church runs the risk of turning in on itself and its own projects, while instead it needs to rediscover the enthusiasm of proclaiming the Gospel. What’s needed is a faith that is proclaimed with freshness, with joy, with freedom, that can reach everyone and attract again by presenting the beauty of Jesus.

In his pontificate Pope Francis has constantly highlighted the value of the Church in Asia, and has also given particular attention to Catholics in South Korea. How do you think this new statue fits into Pope Francis’ constant attention towards Asia? What do you think he sees in Korea’s Catholic Church ?

Cardinal You Heung-sik: We are grateful to Pope Francis for the universal, Catholic and inclusive vision he has shown since the beginning of his pontificate. He himself comes from another part of the world, as he said on the evening of his election. I think he sees Asia as a living, joyful Church that can give a boost to evangelization. As for the Korean Church, we feel looked upon by the Holy Father with affection and attention, and that’s a great gift.

Read here about how St. Andrew Kim’s father is also a saint:

CardinalsKoreaSt. Peter’s Square
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