I decided to wake up early on Sunday and go to a Catholic Mass in Seoul. I did some research and found the perfect one to go to, the Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral. It contains a lot of history and is designated as National Historic Site #258 in the country. It was actually the first Catholic Church in Korea and remains an important symbol of Christianity throughout the nation.
Starting in 1784, people gathered at this location to practice their faith. It was later on reconstructed in 1894, with the final Joseon Dynasty king laying the first stone. The structure of the church was really neat because it was evidently built in a Gothic style; the ceilings were very high and all emerged to a point amongst the brick pillars. Here are some pictures of the ceiling.
I was excited to see the ornately decorated stained glass windows in the interior of the cathedral (it reminded me of the church in my hometown). I can never decide what is more beautiful: the morning sun shining through the stained glass windows or the glowing, intimacy of the colors at night.
Unlike other nations that are usually shaped by a dominant religion, Korea has a variety of religions that are practiced. Buddhism is currently the leading religion, in regards to the size of followers. I read in the last ten years, though, that the Catholic Church has increased its membership by 70%.
Christianity was actually banned in 1758 and was claimed by the current King as an “evil practice” since it went against their ancestral worship. After the religion was reintroduced almost 30 years later, many Korean Christians were persecuted and lived a life of hardship. For example, 8,000 Catholics were killed across the nation during the Catholic Persecution of 1866. The Myeongdong Cathedral continued to stand high, though. Even during such dark times, the parish continued to expand and grow.
I left campus around 7:30 a.m. to be able to attend the English mass at 9 a.m. The service lasted roughly 45 minutes and was very similar (if almost identical) to what we did in my church back home. I even recognized all of the songs! Because of size of the church, there were TV screens in the back incase the viewers had a hard time seeing the front.
The priest was older and spoke with a small accent. The main message from his sermon was that food is a gift from God. I feel like I have heard that phrase over and over, and I’m guilty of just letting it go in one ear and out the other. He was not the most engaging speaker, but I was determined to decipher the phrase (for that I knew I would eventually reiterate it in my blog). Whether or not you’re religious, I still think the message is somewhat universal.
Food is the heart of all social gatherings/parties and is usually the “fix me up” whenever you’re feeling down. Life happens and we may end up abusing it or taking advantage of its abundance, forgetting all about its original nature – it was a gift. How to take full advantage of this particular gift, though? Similar to the way you would wear a shirt that you received for your birthday? Through something as simple as giving to those less fortunate or as big as aiding another country during a famine, we can use food exactly for what it was originally meant for: learning to help others. That’s the basis of what I took from his sermon, and I’m sure each person walked away with a different interpretation.
After the sermon, we did the offerings and received the host as usual (although they did not offer the wine). Another difference was that I noticed a lot of the women wore white and lacy veils. It was actually a beautiful sight and signifies that the person is unmarried.
Like I said, mass was pretty quick and was under an hour. Because the church was located in the middle of a large shopping district, I was able to do some souvenir shopping afterwards. It was overall a great start to my last Sunday in Seoul 🙂
Oh! And here is a photo of Pope Francis at the Myeongdong Cathedral in 2014
See you next time!