South Korean shrine celebrates designation as international pilgrimage site

The Haemi Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine in Seosan, a city in South Chungcheong Province, South Korea The Haemi Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine near Seosan, South Korea. | Public Domain.

A shrine honoring South Korea’s Catholic martyrs has celebrated its designation as an international pilgrimage site.

During the celebration in December, Bishop Augustinus Jong-soo Kim, an auxiliary bishop of Daejeon, formally presented a decree from the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization to the shrine’s rector, Father Han Gwang-seok.

The Vatican dicastery recognized the Haemi Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine as an international pilgrimage destination on March 1, 2021, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Father Thomas Choe Yang-eop, a local missionary priest declared venerable in 2016.

The shrine near Seosan, a city in South Chungcheong Province, central South Korea, marks the spot where more than 1,000 Catholics were killed during a persecution unleashed under the Joseon Dynasty between 1866 and 1882.

The names of only 132 of the martyrs were recorded. A 50-foot-high memorial tower was erected in honor of the unnamed dead.

ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, reported that the shrine is the second Korean site to receive Vatican recognition after the Seoul Catholic Pilgrimage Route, which was declared the first Asian international pilgrimage site in 2018.

There are three kinds of shrines within the Catholic Church: diocesan shrines, approved by the local bishop; national shrines recognized by the bishops’ conference; and international shrines endorsed by the Vatican.

International shrines include historic locations such as Jerusalem and Rome, sites of approved Marian apparitions, such as Lourdes and Fatima, and places associated with saints, such as Assisi and Lisieux.

The website of the Haemi Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine points out that the shrine is distinctive “because there were no famous saints or special miracles, and there are not many people who left their names or deeds in the records.”

Pope Francis visited Haemi Castle on Aug. 17, 2014, to celebrate the closing Mass of the sixth Asian youth day.

In his homily, he said: “The martyrs of Korea – and innumerable others throughout Asia – handed over their bodies to their persecutors; to us they have handed on a perennial witness that the light of Christ’s truth dispels all darkness, and the love of Christ is gloriously triumphant.”

“With the certainty of his victory over death, and our participation in it, we can face the challenge of Christian discipleship today, in our own circumstances and time.”

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