ROME – In yet another nod to Asia, and a further sign of Pope Francis’s love affair with the continent, Saint Peter’s Basilica this week will receive a new marble statue of South Korean priest and martyr Andrew Kim Taegon.
After having announced in August that South Korea would host the next World Youth Day, Pope Francis recently returned from an Aug. 31-Sept. 4 trip to Mongolia, his sixth outing to Asia.
Speaking to Fides News, a missionary news site attached to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization, South Korean Cardinal Lazzaro Heung-sik You said, “We were very happy that Pope Francis wanted to accept our proposal. It is a great honor for our Korean Church, which is very linked to the figure of this saint.”
“We believe and we hope that he can be increasingly loved, and his intercession invoked by faithful from all over the world,” said You, the former bishop of Daejeon and current prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Clergy.
The statue, which stands just over 13 feet tall and weighs approximately six tons, was created in Carrara marble by Korean sculptor Han Jin-Sub, who worked with Italian artist Nicolas Stagetti in the town of Pietrasanta, meaning “holy stone,” in Versilia, Tuscany, broadly considered to be the global capital of sculpture.
It will be formally inaugurated on Sept. 16, the day of Kim’s martyrdom, and will sit in the first niche of the lower order of the north-eastern façade of the Vatican Basilica.
Entrusted to the Fabric of St. Peter, a Vatican institution responsible for the conservation and maintenance of St. Peter’s Basilica, the statue was first proposed by the Korean Bishops’ Conference at the close of festivities commemorating 200th anniversary of the Kim’s birth.
A delegation of 300 people, including bishops, priests, religious, and laypeople, is expected to be present in Rome for the statue’s inauguration, which will be marked by a special Mass celebrated on Sept. 16 by You at 3p.m. in Korean in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Afterward, at 4:30p.m., Italian Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, will give the solemn blessing and inauguration of the statue of the Korean saint.
Pope Francis is expected to meet with the delegation of Korean clergy and faithful during a private audience Wednesday morning, prior to the statue’s inauguration.
Speaking to Fides News, the sculptor, Han Jin-Sub, said, “After having received the assignment from the Holy See, I looked for information in order to create the image. I presented several sketches, and the Holy See chose the version of Saint Andrew with open arms, in traditional Korean robes.”
There are an estimated 10,000 Korean martyrs, though only around 103 cases have been documented, including Kim.
Born in 1821 to a family of Christian converts, Kim was baptized at 15 and entered seminary. He was ordained a priest in 1845, becoming Korea’s first native Catholic priest. He was arrested shortly after for his efforts to evangelize as part of the Joseon Dynasty’s persecution.
Kim was beheaded on Sept. 16, 1846, at the age of 25, and was one of the 103 Korean martyrs canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1984.
Pope Francis during his visit to South Korean in 2014 beatified an additional 124 martyrs who were persecuted and killed during the Joseon Dynasty.
On May 24, Pope Francis in a general audience address, during a cycle of catechesis on apostolic zeal, pointed to Kim as an example, and noted that evangelization in Korea was first done by laypeople, and not clergy.
“About 200 years ago, the Korean land was a theater of severe persecution of the Christian faith. To believe in Jesus Christ, in the Korea of that era, meant being ready to bear witness until death…the Christian is by nature a witness of Jesus,” the pope said.
“Saint Andrew Kim and other Korean faithful have demonstrated that the testimony of the Gospel given in times of persecution can bear many fruits for the faith,” he said.
The inauguration of the new statue of Kim comes after the announcement in August, at the close of World Youth Day in Portugal, that the next global World Youth Day gathering would take place in Seoul, South Korea, in 2027, following a smaller-scale celebration in Rome during the Jubilee of Hope in 2025.
So far in his decade-long reign, Pope Francis has made no secret of his affinity for Asia, freely admitting in an early interview that while a young Jesuit, he had wanted to be a missionary in Japan.
The pontiff has visited the continent six times, making trips to South Korea in 2014, to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in 2015, to Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017, to Thailand Japan in 2019, to Kazakhstan in 2022, and to Mongolia just last week.
In 2021 Francis named You prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Clergy and gave him the personal title of archbishop, making him the first South Korean to lead a Vatican department. A year later, the pope named him a cardinal.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen