Korean priests renew their vocation, pledge to emulate martyr


Priests of the Diocese of Wonju, South Korea, recommitted to their vocations and pledged to sanctify their lives daily by following the model of Fr. Thomas Choe Yang-eop, Korea's second native priest.

Fr. Choe is known as the "Martyr of Sweat" for walking an average of 2,800 kilometers a year to visit Catholics in remote villages, before his death in 1861 from exhaustion and typhoid. A cause is underway for his canonization.

Fr. Choe was born in 1821, the first son of St. Francis Choe Kyong-hwan. He was ordained a priest in 1849, five years after St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon was ordained the first Korean priest.

About 60 priests gathered at the diocesan-run Baeron Shrine in Jecheon, 120 kilometers southeast of Seoul, where Fr. Choe is buried, to celebrate World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, reported UCA News.

The late Pope John Paul II instituted the observance in 1995, to be marked annually on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 15 this year.

Archbishop Paul Tschang In-nam, apostolic nuncio to Bangladesh, was visiting his home and attended the event. He told the priests that they should resemble Christ, act like him and try to unite with Jesus through continual prayer.

"First, we should meditate on the words of Jesus. With the spirituality obtained from meditation, we should feed the faithful and heal their wounds," he said. He stressed poverty, celibacy and modesty as key factors in the sanctification of priests.

Compared with the physical hardships of Fr. Choe, "we work in a much more comfortable environment," said Fr. Patrick Tjung In-tjun, vicar general. However, nowadays "we are at a crisis in fulfilling our priestly ministry and living as priests."

Pointing to the materialism and secularism in South Korea today, he said keeping faith might seem "ridiculous" in this milieu. "In this situation we priests are tempted to follow the world. We should place Jesus as our focal point and avoid temptation," he said.

In 2006, the Diocese of Wonju counted 65,556 Catholics, 96 priests, 42 parishes and 49 mission stations.

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