The Lives of the 103 Martyr Saints of Korea
The Lives of the 103 Korean Martyr Saints 7
Saint Yi Kwang-hon Augustine (1787-1839)
Yi Kwang-hon Augustine was born in 1787, of the aristocratic Kwangju Yi clan and from which came many of the martyrs in the 1801 persecution. With him, his younger brother, Yi Kwang-ryol John the Baptist, his wife Kwon Hui Barbara, his daughter Yi Agatha gave their witness to the faith. Thus, four members of one family won the crown of martyrdom.
Yi kwang-hon was extremely intelligent and capable, although in his youth he laked self restraint and fell into a way of loose living. It was around this time that the King Chong-cho, died and was succeeded by the eleven year old Sun-jo. This change in rulers had political implications as power swung from one faction to another. The infant Church got caught up in the disputes and the persecution of 1801 was the result. The Catholic Church was decreed to be an erroneous teaching and was banned from the kingdom with the intention of rooting it out totally. Thus, the persecution began and the martyrs' blood flowed. By the time Yi Kwang-hon was thirty he had already been married to Kwon Hui for several years, although his habit of loose living had not changed. One day he unexpectedly met a Catholic believer and from him heard about the Church. It was the first time he had reflected that there was a Lord of all things in heaven and on earth, that this Lord was all knowing and omnipotent as well as being the Father of all people and that when people die, the body returns to dust, but the soul remains alive. Hearing these and similar stories made Yi kwang-hon think he had been born again into another world. He realized that until then his life had been little better than that of a brute animal. He deeply repented all his past sins and hoped to emulate Saint Augustine who in his youth had led a profligate life. Yi chose the Christian name Augustine and was baptized.
His whole lifestyle changed. He gave up drinking wine and rarely left the house, spending much time meditating alone. One day he called his wife and younger brother. "Some time ago I heard of the Catholic Church. The government has banned it as a false teaching, but from my understanding it makes everything else seem useless. Just as there is a sun and a moon, so there is a true God. Rather than me believing on my own, it would be better if my wife and brother believed with me. What do you think?"
Both his wife and his brother had heard of the Catholic Church and agreed to join him. His house was used as a gathering place for Catholics and he became a catechist. With his wife Barbara he was putting all his efforts into bringing unbelievers into the Church, visiting the sick and caring for their Catholic community.
In the meantime, political pressure was increasing. The storm of persecution broke out on the Sunday after Easter, April 7th, 1839. That evening police suddenly surrounded an inn opposite the house where the missionaries normally stayed. Many Catholics who had been staying at the inn were taken into custody. Among them was a woman whose husband was a catechumen and, as such, knew about many of the Catholics. Hearing of his wife's arrest he rushed to the police station and demanded her release. His wife, however, refused to deny her faith and the husband, in anger, revealed all he knew about the Church, including the names of fifty-three Catholics. With this information the police arranged two raids the following day, April 8th One was to the house of Nam Myong-hyok Damian, and the other was to the house of Yi Kwang-hon Augustine. That night Yi Kwang-hon Augustine, his wife Kwon Hui Barbara, their seventeen year old daughter, Yi Agatha and their two young sons were arrested with others.
The prison was packed with men in one cell, women in another and the children in a third. When Yi kwang-hon's eight year old son cried that he wanted to be with his parents, one of the guards struck him. At this, the child's mother remonstrated with the guard, "What wrong has the child done that you strike him? Have you no children of your own?"
But her husband said to her, "Be patient. We are sacrificial lambs for God. Let us not miss this opportunity." From then on Kwon Hui Barbara submitted meekly to all that was done to her, counting it as grace.
The interrogation began the next day. Yi Kwang-hon Augustine was the first called. "With just one word from you to betray God, you, your wife, children and brother can all go free and your property will be restored to you," the guard told him but he responded: "The most important thing in the world for me is my faith. Even if I lose everything else, I cannot betray God."
Augustine regarded the pain as walking the road of Calvary of Jesus and sharing His suffering. When his wife Barbara and daughter Agatha were called out their response was the same and the commissioner became very angry. Augustine was beaten and tortured until his whole body was reduced to bloody pulp.
After three days of debate the judge sentenced nine of the prisoners to death. On May 24th, the nine condemned Catholics were brought to the crossroads outside the Small West Gate in down town Seoul. Yi Kwang-hon was 53 years old.
On July 20th, Yi Kwang-ryol John the Baptist was taken out with other seven Catholics and beheaded at the West Small Gate. He was 45 years old. On September 3th, Kwon Hui Barbara was beheaded along with five other Catholic women. On January 9th, 1840, her daughter Yi Agatha and Kim Theresa were taken to a special cell by the interrogators and there they were strangled. Thus four members of Yi kwang-hon Augustine's family won the crown of martyrdom. They were beatified on July 5th, 1925, and together they were canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.