Valentina di Giorgio
(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 09.20.2023).- In a touching commemorative ceremony on the anniversary of his martyrdom, a 3.8-meter-tall marble statue of San Andrés Kim Tae-gon (1821-1846), the first Catholic priest in Korea, was officially unveiled at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican during a Saturday mass on September 16th.
This monumental statue, crafted by the renowned Korean sculptor Han Jin-sub, now graces a niche in St. Peter’s Basilica, marking the first installation of an Asian saint’s statue in the universal seat of the Catholic Church.
Adorned in traditional Korean attire, including the distinctive “gat” hat and a “dopo” ensemble, the statue pays homage to Korea’s rich cultural heritage.
During the emotional ceremony, Cardinal Lazzaro You Heung-sik, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, blessed the statue’s installation. Among the attendees were members of the Korean Church delegation, including Bishop Mathias Ri Long-hoon and Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung. Kang Seung-kyoo, the senior presidential secretary for civil society, was also present as a special envoy of President Yoon Suk Yeol.
In his address, Cardinal You expressed his hope that young people from around the world would find inspiration in the life of Priest Kim Tae-gon, a man who demonstrated unwavering hope and courage in the face of adversity, despite living only 25 years.
Cardinal You described the statue’s installation as another “amazing and deeply moving” moment, occurring shortly after Seoul was chosen as the host of World Youth Day 2027, a global event on the Catholic Church’s calendar.
The initiative to honor the 200th birth anniversary of the martyr in 2021 was initially proposed to Pope Francis by Cardinal You. The project was funded by the Korean Episcopal Conference.
Born into a family of Christian converts, Kim Tae-gon was baptized at the age of 15 and later traveled to Macao, under Portuguese rule, to enroll in a seminary. He was ordained as a priest in China in 1845 and returned to his homeland for missionary work. Tragically, in 1846, at the tender age of 25, he faced torture and decapitation near Seoul, on the banks of the Han River.
In 1984, Pope John Paul II canonized Kim, declaring him a saint alongside 102 other martyrs. In 2021, UNESCO commemorated the 200th anniversary of the martyr’s birth and designated him as a global monument, further cementing his legacy as a symbol of faith and resilience.