Pope Francis beatified 124 Korean martyrs on Saturday, telling hundreds of thousands of people who turned out for his open-air Mass that their ancestors’ willingness to die rather than renounce their faith two centuries ago was a model for Asian missionaries today. The main figure in the group that was beatified is Paul Yun Ji-Chung, who was born in 1759 and was among the earliest Catholics on the peninsula. He was beheaded in 1791 - the first Korean martyr - after he violated the traditional Confucian funeral rites for his mother. The streets leading up to Seoul’s iconic Gwanghwamun Gate were packed with Koreans honoring the lay Catholics who founded the church here in the 18th century. Police declined to give an estimate of the crowd size, but the Vatican said some 800,000 people had turned out The number was significant given that Catholics represent only about 10 percent of South Korea’s 50 million people.
They were willing to make great sacrifices and let themselves be stripped of whatever kept them from Christ - possessions and land, prestige and honor - for they knew that Christ alone was their true treasure
En route to the altar before Mass, Francis stopped his open-topped car so he could get out and bless a group of families who lost loved ones in the April Sewol ferry sinking, in which more than 300 people, most of them high school students, were killed. On his white cassock, Francis wore a yellow ribbon given to him by the families a day earlier when he met with them privately to try to console them. Korea’s church is unique in that it was founded not by foreign missionary priests - as occurred in most of the world - but by members of Korea’s own noble classes who learned of Christianity by reading books about it.