The Lives of the 103 Martyr of Korea
The Lives of the 103 Korean Martyr Saints - 23(1)
Ch'oe Kyong-hwan Francis(1805-1839)
Ch'oe Kyong-hwan Francis was of the Kyongju Ch'oe clan, born in 1805 to a prosperous family in Taraekkol, Hongjugun, Ch'ungch'ong Province. His grandfather, Ch'oe Han-il, was the first member of the family to be baptized in 1787 after he had received instructions from the renowned Yi Chon-ch'ang.
After being without a priest for a long time, many of the Catholics in the area were Catholic in name only. They regularly engaged in superstitious acts and false worship, so there were many obstacles to obeying the Commandments and practicing their faith. Francis could not tolerate this situation, so he left home one day and settled in the village on Mount Suri near Kwach'on in Kyonggi Province.
At this new-found site Francis was able to live a life of faith. Clearing the hillside of trees, he planted tobacco and helped newly arriving Catholics to build homes for themselves. With all their heart and soul they obeyed the Commandments and at night they studied the doctrine, meditated and prayed.
At first only three or four families lived in the village but slowly this number grew into over twenty. At night Francis would gather them all in his house and teach doctrine. His explanation of Church's teaching was earnest, concise and persuasive. His speech ability spread and Catholics came from far and wide to hear him.
He was not all that well educated but frequent meditation and studying of spiritual books gave rise to a burning love of God in his heart and he had an amazing knowledge of the Church's profound truth. Whether working or at home, in the fields or walking along the road, his heart was always in union with God. He never spoke of any other matter except what concerned love of God and devotion.
In 1839, he was appointed catechist. The persecution of 1839 was beginning and around Hanyang many Catholics were being apprehended and subjected to hunger and suffering. Francis collected money and traveled about using it to help the imprisoned Catholics and poor unbelievers as well. He also helped in burying the bodies of the martyrs.
Returning home, he instructed his family to prepare themselves for martyrdom. He collected all their religious artifacts and buried them in the ground, except for the catechetical books. He said, "We hide our religious articles so that they will not be profaned but books are not blessed. A soldier going to war needs his battle instructions. At a time like this we must study all the books more earnestly."
In 1836, when Ch'oe Kyong-hwan Francis was thirty-one, Father Maubant, a missionary priest from the Paris Foreign Mission Society arrived in Korea. Knowing the difficulty that foreign priests had in getting into and staying in Korea, Father Maubant decided to send young Koreans overseas to study for the priesthood.
Ch'oe Kyong-hwan Francis' oldest son, Yang-up, was reported to him as being exceptionally intelligent, so Father Maubant decided to call on his parents. He sat down opposite the husband and wife and carefully talked to them.
"Francis and Maria, I have come to consult you about a very important matter today. I have heard that your son, Thomas, is very intelligent. I would like to send him to Macao to study for the priesthood. Will you give your consent?"
"Thank you, Father. This is not our will but the call of God, a vocation. We had no idea that such a blessing and happiness would come to our house. Thank you again." The couple willingly gave their consent.
At that time the influence of Confucianism was such that Koreans did not readily send their sons to live even with their older or younger brothers. However, this couple realized that sending their son off to a far away foreign land was the will of God.
On the night of July 31, 1839, police came from Hanyang to the village at Mount Suri where they surrounded Francis' house and with shouts and insults broke down the gate. However, Francis greeted them like welcomed guests.
"Welcome to our house. Why has it taken you so long? We have been expecting you for a long time. We are all ready for you. Come in and rest until daybreak. Let us leave together at dawn."
And he provided them with rice wine. The police were amazed at this attitude and said to one another,
"These people are indeed true believers. There is no danger of them escaping, so let us rest before leaving."
While they rested Francis toured the village and told the residents,
"This persecution is countrywide and it seems to be the government's intention to root out the Church totally. At dawn let us go with the police, give witness to our faith and seek martyrdom.”
The Catholics all agreed to his proposal. To his own children he said,
"Even if you stay here you will not escape death. Rather then starving to death at home it would be better to die in prison in Hanyang. Dying while giving witness in prison is true martyrdom."”
At dawn he rose and served breakfast to the police. To one shabby policeman he gave a clean suit of clothes. The village people were rounded up and one by one, asked if they were Catholics. The ones who apostatized were allowed to go free. (To be continued on CBCK Newsletter No 41)