When our Korean friends heard about the blog I wrote about the Catholic church behind our house, they decided to show me two interesting Korean churches, so I could share them with you. A group met at a Coffee shop, and off we went sight seeing. It helps beyond measure to know the people and the language as a foreigner because the local people know about things regular foreigners don’t know, and if you don’t speak the language, you don’t have access to people who really know their country well unless you are lucky and meet a Korean who speaks English well and knows their country. One of the thing I always think when I study a language is, “I want to talk to the grandmothers and grandfathers,” because they educate me better than the young ones about any country I live in, and now they educate me about Korea. One of the churches they told me about is the oldest Catholic church in Korea, and the other is an Anglican church they began building more than 100 years ago, but the construction isn’t finished yet. I gained so much information I will have to do a separate blog on each church. In this one, I will tell you about the oldest Catholic church in Korea.
One of the young Koreans said we needed a GPS to get to the Catholic church, and an older one said he would be the GPS. The older ones know their country. He can’t speak English, but is he always trying. His directions were a mixture of Korean and “tur–r–rn leftoo!” He is a university professor who teaches the Chinese characters the Koreans use. He is better read in Korean than anyone you want to meet because the old books are written in these Chinese characters, and only the most educated can even understand those books. Most of the young ones can hardly ready Chinese characters, but this guy keeps the ancient Korean culture alive with his teaching. He is also a respected author and preacher in Korea.
They tell me we have arrived, but I don’t even see a church building. All I see is another massive building the Koreans love to build. The Korean professor says there is a parking garage and directs me to it. We go down into the parking garage and immediately find one of the pink parking spaces the Korean government has set aside for women. We head for the elevators, and I am wondering where the church building is. When we get to the elevator, I realize the whole huge complex with several floors is the church building. We are at a place called Myeong-dong Cathedral. There are several elevators, and they only stop at certain floors. As we get in the elevator, everyone is afraid we are getting on the wrong one, but someone points out that it stops on the third floor, so it is the right one.
When the elevator stops, the door on the other side opens, and it opens to the outside. I am puzzled, but I follow them. We walk into a huge courtyard. There is a huge cathedral sitting in the middle of the courtyard with several smaller buildings around it. First, we go up to the building, and my daughter opens a door, but decides not to go in because they are having some sort of mass. While she has it open just a small way, she snaps a picture and says she is disappointed because she has heard about Catholic and Orthodox churches in other countries glowing with gold and full of pictures and statues, and she just doesn’t see much art. She closes the door, and we keep walking around the building.
I see a statue of a Korean Catholic martyr. The professor who is with us tries to tell me that many people’s movements have met in this court yard, and that this place is very, very old. We see an outside place where they have lit candles. We see a big statue of Mary. We keep walking around the building. We see a coffee shop, and my daughter remembers the coffee shop at the other Catholic church building we went to and wonders if all Catholic churches have coffee shops. Next, we see a Catholic paraphernalia shop. It is interesting, and we go in.
There are many fascinating things in this shop: white lace head coverings women can buy to wear in worship, rosary beads, and lots of colorful statues of Mary and Jesus. There is no doubt how important this church thinks Mary is. Some of the statues of Mary have Mary standing on a snake with an apple in its mouth under her foot. This is a huge misunderstanding of scripture. Mary didn’t crush Satan, Christ did when he died on the cross. Genesis 3 says in the punishment of Adam and Eve for the first sin, that Eve will be punished in pains of child bearing, but there is also a prophecy there. It is God’s plan to bring man back to himself. He says that the seed of the woman will crush the head of Satan. That seed is Christ, not Mary. If you read Revelation chapter 12, you will understand that there was a plan made from the beginning of time to bring mankind back to God, and a woman (the symbol for the earth) will bring forth a son who will sit on the throne next to God. It is a son, not a daughter who will crush sin and Satan.
I understand the Catholic church’s obsession with Mary better than they do through the study of history. In the time that Christianity came into Rome, there was a very popular religion in Rome, the Isis cult from Egypt. Isis was a queen of Egypt who had a son after her husband died, and everyone thought it was a miracle. The name of her son was Horus. In Egyptian religions, Isis and Horus became deities, and Rome and Egypt had so many dealings that Romans also enfolded Isis and Horus as deities. If you look up pictures of Isis and Horus on the internet, you will be able to see the similarities between these statues and the statue of Isis holding Horus as a baby. As the Catholic church has grown through the years, they always seemed to incorporate things from the culture into the church. In Mexico, there was also a mother goddess in the Indian religions, and they took Mary as the Madonna, the mother goddess. People can say they don’t look at Mary as a mother goddess all they want, but when I was living in Romania, a student wrote a paper for one of my classes talking about how they came from the Ukraine, and their family gathered as soon as they came into Romania to celebrate the mother goddess. At the time, I was very surprised to see they had called Mary “the mother goddess,” but I have heard it since. Isis was the mother goddess, but Christianity tried to make it out to be Mary. They think Mary was forever a virgin, so deserves worship, but the Bible never says either of those things. In fact, the Bible lists the names of Mary’s other children and in Matthew chapter one, it comes right out and says that Mary slept with Joseph after Jesus was born. Mary was a good woman, and was a virgin when Jesus was born, but not forever a virgin and not a goddess. I found these statues in the gift shop very interesting.
We walked out of the gift shop, and I noticed something very important. It was a plaque explaining the history of this church. The first Catholic community in Korea was formed here in 1784 during the Joseon Dynasty. In 1898, this cathedral was constructed. The church was brought here by the French and influenced by the Benedictine monks. The Benedictine monks were the group of monks who translated the Bible into many, many languages and taught people everywhere during the dark ages to read using the Bible bringing civilization to Europe before every king began making sure there was a Benedictine monk in his court and causing power hungry evil men to enter the ranks of the Benedictine monks and changing their reputation. This Cathedral is considered a National Historic Heritage site. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, many people met here as the center of many Democratic movements and these people played a role in the explansion of human rights. Now I understand much better what the professor was talking about when he talked about people’s movements meeting here and why he thought this was a place I should see and share with you. The plaque was written in both Korean and English.
We walked away from the Cathedral, and I noticed a place we had missed as we came in. There are church bulletins for everyone to pick up explaining the place and giving a schedule of services and location of services because the place is so big. They are written in several different languages, so I picked an English one up to understand the place better.
We walked down the stairs and came to a grotto. We were curious, so we walked toward it. There was a statue of someone praying at the grotto. There was also a plaque written in both Korean and Latin that this place was dedicated to prayer. We looked around us, and there were people sitting on benches. We probably shouldn’t have been there talking because we were probably disturbing their prayers. As we walk out, we see a sign written in English to be quiet because it is a place of prayer.
We keep going down the stairs and turn back to the right. There is another coffee shop. We walk into the building and go past the coffee shop and go down a hallway. It is the second floor. There is a restaurant on the left, and we look off a balcony to down below. It is full of shops and restaurants. This is the Myeong-dong Catholic church building, a type of shopping mall.
We get back on the elevator and go to the parking garage. They charge us for parking as we leave the parking garage. We noticed the car in front of us paying more than 20,000 won for parking, and get worried, but ours was quite a bit less. However, they seem to make a lot of money off of parking. We head on to the next church we have been told about, the Anglican church they have been building for more than 100 years.