Following Mass, faithful gathered in the parking lot for a brief observance of the Lunar Harvest, a cultural celebration enjoyed by the Korean community.
Following Mass, faithful gathered in the parking lot for a brief observance of the Lunar Harvest, a cultural celebration enjoyed by the Korean community.

As Dominic Kang gazed around St. Michael Church before the start of Mass, he smiled, reflecting on the number of fellow parishioners who have been with the Church of the Korean Martyrs since its inception 25 years ago.

“They are the very backbone of this community,” Kang said, noting that the majority arrived in the area through their work as faculty members at either Princeton or Rutgers Universities or were graduate school students.

Photo Gallery: Church of the Korean Martyrs marks 25 years

The silver anniversary of the Church of the Korean Martyrs was celebrated Sept. 22 when the faithful gathered in their spiritual home, St. Michael Church, Trenton, for a Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

“This is exciting, it’s an honor to be part of this celebration,” said Kang, a parishioner for 25 years.

Ultimate Sacrifice

The date chosen to hold the anniversary Mass was significant in that it fell near Sept. 20, the day in which the universal Church commemorated the Memorial of the Korean Martyrs, namely Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon and Paul Chong Hasang and companions, along with the thousands of Korean countrymen and women who sacrificed their lives in defense of their Catholic faith in the 16th century. Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon and Paul Chong Hasang were among 103 saints to be canonized by Pope John Paul II May 6, 1984.

The lives, works and sacrifices of the Korean saints were reflected in the Readings that were chosen for the Mass. The First Reading, from in the Book of Wisdom, is one of the most popular and commonly used Scripture passages at Catholic funeral Masses, Bishop O’Connell said in his homily, noting that the words bring comfort to those who have lost a loved one: “The souls of the just are in the hands of God, there no torment shall touch them … they are in peace.”

Referring to the Gospel from St. Luke, Bishop O’Connell spoke of how the martyrs had “followed the Lord, carried their crosses faithfully and have found eternal life.” In the Second Reading, St. Paul in his letters to the Romans stated that “nothing could separate them from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus the Lord,” Bishop O’Connell said.

“The just, the righteous witnessed the grace and mercy of God and some bore witness with their lives, through the shedding of their blood. Their souls are, indeed, in the hands of God where they witness his love forever,” he said.

Citing that a martyr is a witness, Bishop O’Connell said, “Martyrs witness more than the eye can see; martyrs see and sense something in life that moves them, draws them so deeply and profoundly that they are willing to give their life for it … Christian martyrs follow the Lord Jesus to the Cross.”

As the Korean community celebrates the feast of the martyrs, 103 souls are “in the hands of God because they gave witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, carrying the Cross to the point of death in his name,” Bishop O’Connell said, noting that there are almost six million Catholics in Korea, “and here in the Diocese of Trenton, we have shared their faith and commitment for the past 25 years.”

A Home In Trenton

The distinguished history of the Church of the Korean Martyrs dates to 1994 when the community was formed to serve the needs of the Korean-speaking Catholics in the Princeton and Trenton area. Early on, the faithful had gathered in homes for the celebration of the Sacraments until they arrived to their first worship site, which was St. Michael Parish. The community eventually relocated two times, worshipping for several years in St. Paul Church, Princeton, and later in Blessed Sacrament Church, Trenton.

In 2006, about a year after St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, assumed oversight of St. Michael Parish, the Church of the Korean Martyrs began renting the rectory on the St. Michael campus and, at the invitation of Msgr. Vincent Gartland, then-pastor of St. Ann Parish, began holding their celebrations of Mass each week in the Korean language in St. Michael Church. In addition to the Korean community, St. Michael Parish is also the worship site for the Slovak Catholics who have had a presence in the Trenton area since the 1880s, and St. Michael Parish, prior to 2005, had been a worship site for the Slovaks living in the East and North sections of Trenton since it was established in 1921.

Though it has been only a year since Father Ki Hyun Moise Kim relocated from Korea to serve as pastor of the Church of the Korean Martyrs, he reflected on the 170 parishioners he shepherds and the opportunity to celebrate the parish’s 25th anniversary.

“Today we thank God for everything,” he said, “and we pray [that we follow] what God wants for us in the future.”

As residents of Newtown, Pa., Sean Pak and his wife, Lucia Young Pak, said that while they are members of the town’s St. Andrew Parish, they enjoy “crossing the river” to worship with fellow Korean Catholics in Trenton.

“There’s a family environment here, and we keep the Korean traditions,” Sean Pak said.

Wan-Mo Kang, a parishioner since 2009, smiled as he told of how the Church of the Korean Martyrs is known as one of the most family-like and peaceful parishes among Korean-American Catholic communities.

“We share our sorrow, concern, happiness as well as our faith,” said Kang, who lives in Princeton Township with his wife, Gabriella Kim, and two sons.

“CKM has grown consistently over the past years, particularly the number of young parents having children,” Kang said, then added sentiment on what it means for the Church of the Korean Martyrs to share a campus with members of the Slovak community.

“It was one of the important teachings from Jesus Christ that we have to recognize, learn about and respect other ethnic people and their history and culture,” Kang said, noting that during the anniversary Mass he became emotional when Bishop O’Connell talked about Korean Catholic history and the country’s 103 martyrs. He also added how happy he was to see the young parishioners from the Slovak community join with their peers in singing a mediation hymn during the Mass.

Having been part of her parish since the beginning, parishioner Hai Sook Kim said she feels “very blessed and so much joy” in witnessing her parish’s silver jubilee.

“It’s so exciting,” she said, telling how she and her husband, Young Woo Kim, had raised four children in the parish, all of whom were members of the youth group, and how through his participation in the parish, Young Woo was inspired to receive the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist – and become a member of the Catholic faith.