08/01/2009, 00.00
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Korea celebrates Thomas An Jung-geun, the assasin "Saint"

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
Great celebrations for the centenary of murder of the regent of the Japanese in Korea, killed in 1909 by a Catholic patriot fighting for the liberation of the country. While the public has proclaimed him a national icon of pride, the Korean Church is divided on the figure of a man of peace who killed to support his ideals.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – H e has gone down in history for a murder: the murder of Ito Hirobumi, regent of the Japanese in Korea in 1909. Since then, An Jung-geun has remained one of the most controversial figures in the history of Korea. And today, while the country prepares to celebrate his gesture, he is once again back in the lime light.

The murder of Ito cost Thomas An his life: he was executed March 26 of 1910. Since then he has become an icon of national pride to an extent that he has recived posthumoulsy, in 1962, the Order of Merit for the foundation of the nation. He has inspired novels, books, films and his figure still has great respect, especially among young people.

History books consider him a nationalist patriot,a martyr for the independence of the country, an ideologue of pan-Asian peace, but to these definitions many more can be added. Surely it must be added the fact that An was a Catholic and his baptismal name was Thomas. But this is also cause for debate within the Church. Some people consider him a saint and others can not justify the murder and do not accept the explanation that Thomas An Jung-geun gave during the trial: "I killed because Ito was an obstacle to peace in Asia and  to the relationship between Korea and Japan. It was my task to organize the murder because I was a lieutenant general of the Korean resistance”.

The late Cardinal. Kim Sou-hwan, a leading figure of the national Church, always showed great respect for Thomas An. The Catholic circles today still debate about his legacy and especially the pan-Asian project which for him was the only real solution for a future of peace in Korea and with its neighbors China and Japan. Thomas An’s dedication to peace and his commitment to freedom of the country remain unquestionable.  The chronicles of teh time tell us that his jailers were impressed by his friendliness and unshakable certainty that the good of the people could not be pursued with arms. But the gesture he carried out on 26 October 1910, the shot he fired against Ito remain an unresolved point of this personality and the main cause of debate within the Christian community.

Today, Catholics see with their own eyes the results of that war and political divisions that Thomas An fought. Communist China and North Korea of Kim Jong-il are two clear warnings that give reason to the national hero’s battle for Seoul. But the case remains open. There will be major celebratory events in Harbin, where the murder of Ito took place, and Lushan, where Thomas An was executed. But his figure is still suspended between the ideal of peace he advocated and the murder he committed to defend it: this is the face of the assasin “saint”.


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