Pope John Paul II said this of the Catholic Church in Korea: "The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by laypeople. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast 10,000 martyrs. The years 1791, 1801, 1827, 1839, 1846, and 1866 are forever signed with the holy blood of your martyrs and engraved in your hearts. The death of these many martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today's splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians of the Church of Silence in the north of this tragically divided land."
Christianity came to Korea through Christian books which had been brought across the border from China. In 1784 the small community of Koreans who had been converted through what they read in the books sent one of their own to Beijing to receive baptism.
In the next half century, the rapidly growing Christian community of Korea was sustained in the Sacraments by only two priests from China, until 1836, when, after years of pleading, a group of French missionary priests were sent to Korea. These priests all numbered among the martyrs.
At the end of the 18th century and throughout the next, there were six great waves of persecution in which 10,000 martyrs shed their blood for the faith.
Saints Andrew Kim Taegon and Paul Chong Hasañg, were leaders of the Catholic Church in Korea.
Andrew Kim Taegon was born to Korean nobility, and his parents converted when he was 15-years old. He traveled over 1000 miles to study in a seminary and became the first native Korean priest. He was tortured and beheaded in 1846.
Paul Choñg Hasang was a Korean Catholic lay leader who defended the faith before the government of Korea, and reunited the Christians in the midst of the persecutions, encouraging them to stay strong in the faith. In response to his direct appeals, the Pope, Gregory X, confirmed the validity of the Korean Church and sent more priests to Korea. He was martyred in 1839.