Growing up, I was the token Asian girl. I still remember setting foot onto my Los Angeles college campus for the first time. I joined a Christian group where there were more Asian faces my age than I’d ever been in the same room with before. I discovered people that took their shoes off in their dorm rooms and who knew what kimchi was.
Where was this my whole life? All of a sudden I was surrounded by people who were like me. With them, I felt like I could fully be myself. I had no idea this was possible. It was like blinders I didn’t even know I had were taken off.
And then the book, “Pray For Us,” by Meg Hunter-Kilmer arrived in my mailbox about a year ago. I gasped when I saw the saint on the cover wearing a Korean hanbok, and I immediately searched for the Korean saints’ stories.
Reading them, I recognized the long-suffering love of the Korean mother St. Magdalena Son So-Byok for her children. I also understood the deep bravery it took for St. Agnes Kim Hyo-Ju to endure unjust treatment quietly. I was completely captivated.
Here I was, a Catholic for about a decade, and this was my first time reading detailed stories about Korean saints. These were the saints that laid the foundation for my mother to find Jesus as a young girl in Korea. Up until that moment, I just assumed that because I hadn’t come across Asian saint stories that they didn’t exist. I only knew that there were groups of Asian martyrs and “companions.”
Raised in a white church, I had subconsciously learned that my cultural identity was separate from my faith, especially when they seemed to be in tension. Now as an adult, when I only see European saints as models, it’s like being back in my home church in the ‘90s where I admired the leaders and tried but somehow could never be like them.
The Korean saints show me what it means to be fully Korean and fully Catholic. They show me how faith and culture can be integrated. And that has enabled me to be who God created me to be in a way I didn’t realize was possible.
Wanting more, I discovered that there were so many stories about hundreds of Asian saints across the Asian diaspora. Inspired by what I was learning, I approached the Hallow app content team in January with a pitch: Asian saint stories read by Asian American Catholics to be released during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is observed in May.
The component of “own voices” was important. In this case, it meant having each Asian saint’s story read by someone who shared the same heritage. We had readers with Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Hmong, Filipino and Vietnamese roots recording chapters from “Pray For Us.”
At the end, each reader said “pray for us” in the saint’s native language. When the recordings were released on the app, I got chills. Here were our voices, reading the stories of our saints.
This project touched me so deeply that I reached out to a local artist, Kolbe Yang, and commissioned an image of all these saints together in heaven. When I saw the finished piece, it was like my blinders coming off again. It made me realize that our Asian heroes of faith give us important connections to our past and also provide us grounding as we journey through the integration of our Asian American identity and faith.
Like a true millennial, I started an Instagram account, @asicancatholicwoman, to document my own exploration at this intersection. I share my spiritual discoveries about Asian saints and Asian Catholic church history, while also showing foods from my culture and books that represent my family. My aim is to share my story because it’s our turn to start telling our stories. No one else can tell our stories like we can.
Sarah Hoyoung Ku is a mother of five and the creator behind @asiancatholicwoman on Instagram.
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