During the Winter Olympics this past February, a figure skater from South Korea wowed the judges so much that she not only won the gold medal, she also broke the world record for the highest score ever in such a competition. People were awestruck by the beauty and perfection of her skills, but many people also noticed that just before she began her routine she made the sign of the cross and bowed a moment in silent prayer.
Her name is Yuna Kim, and she has been skating since she was five years old, but she only became a Catholic about a year and half before winning the gold medal. Let’s take a look at her story.
Yuna was born September 5, 1990. When she began skating, it was just for fun at her mother’s prompting. Two years later, at age seven, a skating coach approached her mother and said that Yuna had the talent to become a world-class skater. She began training, and developed quickly as a quality skater. She loved the elegance and challenge of figure skating.
At age 12 she became the youngest person ever to win the South Korean Figure Skating Championship, and became an instant celebrity in her country. She began competing internationally at age 14 and won second place at several junior world competitions.
Training in any sport is hard, as everyone knows. In order to continue improving Yuna had to spend many long hours alone on the ice and in other types of training. Her mother accompanied her and gave her emotional support, but Kim had to give up the friends and normal social life that most teens enjoy. There were many times when she felt very lonely.
She continued to improve her skating skills, and when she was 15 she won the 2006 World Junior Figure Skating Championships.
So, when did Yuna start to become interested in the Catholic faith? Apparently it was a slow process, but mainly due to the influence of her longtime physician, Dr. Cho, who is a fervent Catholic. Doctor Cho runs a medical sports clinic, and he has many Catholic visitors at his clinics, including Catholic nuns. From what we could gather, Yuna and her mom were very impressed by the kindness and love that the nuns showed to everyone. They began to ask questions about the Catholic faith.
Yuna’s trips to the doctor were pretty frequent, because high level skating is very taxing on the body. Kim had begun to suffer injuries to her knees and feet since 2005.
During the 2006-2007 season, Yuna’s pain increased and she was forced to withdraw from the South Korean Championships. She was diagnosed with a herniated disc in her lower back in January 2007.
Yet, in spite of her injury Yuna decided to compete in the 2007 World Figure Skating Championships, and apparently this was where her interest in the Catholic faith also took a step forward. The nuns had given her mother a small holy medal to pin on Yuna’s skating outfit. Because of the back injury and all the pain associated with it, Kim was not expected to do well, but she did much better than expected. She placed third overall and even broke a world record for the most amount of points ever awarded in one aspect of the competition, the short program.
Kim and her mother were amazed at the results, but something else was happening.
They were becoming fascinated by the personal love of Jesus, and the spiritual beauty of Mary, Jesus’s mother.
The loneliness of training and competition had made Kim long for a close friend. And the pressure of having to always perform at her best had begun to make her see the unconditional love of Christ and Mary as something very beautiful. She didn’t have to be a world champion to be loved by Christ and Mary. She didn’t have to be anything at all. She simply had to allow herself to be loved.
She and her mother asked to receive instructions on the Catholic faith. They were both baptized in May 2008. The priest who gave them instructions said he was very impressed by Yuna’s hunger for the faith and the joy she found in it. He said she absorbed every aspect of the Catholic faith that he taught her with an enthusiasm and purity that deeply impressed him.
Yuna was already a superstar in South Korea, so the news of her becoming
Catholic made headlines. In Korea, Catholics often choose a new name when they are baptized. Yuna chose “Stella,” which means, “star.” Not because she wants to be a Hollywood star, but because “Stella Matutina” and “Stella Maris” are names for Mary. They mean Mary, the morning star, and Mary, the star of the sea. “Morning star” refers to Mary as the star in morning sky of human history who shows us the beauty of the coming dawn. The dawn is her son, Jesus, who brought God’s love to the world. Mary is called “star of the sea” because Mary’s love can help guide us to Jesus and to heaven in the midst of the troubled seas of this life.
Yuna, or Stella, has a very strong devotion to Mary. She loves her purity and goodness. Since her baptism she wears a rosary ring, which many people confuse with an engagement ring. It is not an engagement ring. It is just a reminder that helps her pray with Mary. In fact this month, October 2010, Yuna participated with the bishops of Korea in a campaign to explain the rosary to people in Korea, since so many people were fascinated by her ring.
Stella has explained that her Catholic faith has given her a newfound peace. She said that at her baptism she felt great consolation and relief, knowing that she had God’s love, and she promised that from then on she would pray before entering the rink.
If you have watched Yuna perform, you know that she has kept that promise.
Right before her Olympic performance millions of people around the world watched make the sign of the cross and spend a short moment in prayer. Some viewers say that almost without thinking they made the sign of the cross too, fascinated by the spiritual beauty of this young girl.
If you have some time, watch one of Yuna’s performances on Youtube. You will be impressed by the beauty and grace with which she performs. And knowing that she is also performing with confidence in God’s love adds a deeper dimension to her beauty.
Let’s pray that Stella continues to live a strong Catholic faith, and continues to help other people discover God’s love by her example. In her own way, Stella is also a “morning star” like Mary, who points us toward Jesus. And that’s probably the best star any of us can be.