The Lives of the 103 Martyr Saints
The Lives of the 103 Korean Martyr Saints -24
Ch'oe Kyong-hwan Francis (1805-1839) - 2
Early in the morning Francis and about 40 others, including children, were rounded up and taken to Seoul.One estimate puts the total number at 100. Francis went in front, followed by the men, then the women and children. The police followed behind. Francis told the group of tired Catholics that an angel was measuring their steps with a golden ruler and encouraged them to think of Jesus on the Cross. It was the height of summer and the heat made walking difficult, especially for the women and children. Among those who watched this strange procession were some who hurled insults at them and others who felt sorry for them.
As they arrived at the Great South Gate, people shouted at them,
"You wicked people. Die if you want to, but, why to make these innocent children die with you?" It was evening before they arrived at the prison.
The next day the interrogation started. The police commissioner said,
"If you want to believe, do it alone. Do not deceive these other people."
To this warning, Francis replied, "Whoever does not believe in the Catholic Church goes to hell." Encouraging them to believe in the Catholic Church was out of love, to save their souls from hell. The angry judge ordered that he be tortured until he recanted and apostatized. But he bravely withstood the torture even though his whole body was bleeding and covered with wounds.
Francis was bleeding heavily and his bones were exposed, but he was steadfast. Next the other Catholics were called and questioned. But they couldn't endure the harsh tortures and finally they all denied their religion except three persons; Francis, his wife, and one of his women relatives, Yi Emerentia. Catechist Ch'oe Francis was sad to see his fellow Catholics go away and his Mount Suri community being reduced to only three.
When the judges discovered that one of his sons, Ch'oe Yang-up Thomas,had gone to Macao to study theology, they increased pressure on him to make him deny God. They beat him so severely that the bones of his arms and legs were all dislocated. Francis said to them: "You can make me stop eating, but you can never make me deny God." He went on "How dare you demand that I betray the Church. Infidelity among ordinary people is regarded as wrong. How much more so is infidelity to God!"
According to witnesses, during the two months Francis was in prison, there was hardly a day that he was not subjected to torture until his whole body became one great wound.
It is told that he was whipped 340 times and beaten with a club on his shins 110 times. Despite all, he never stopped praying or preaching the Gospel to people around him. One day, to aggravate his suffering, the police chief tied a fierce robber with him. The robber ridiculed him and kicked his wounds. But Francis endured everything without a word until even the robber was won over and exclaimed, "If anyone is going to believe in the Catholic Church, they should believe like him."
If his patience and courage had not come from a deep faith in God he could not have withstood such severe torture and hardship. In the midst of this pain, whenever he was asked to explain the doctrine of God, Francis was filled with joy and gladly preached the doctrine to those in prison with him. One day a prison guard put Bishop Imbert's mitre and vestments on Francis, and he bowed reverently, saying that he was bowing to the Cross.
On September 11, Francis was taken out to the court again and beaten with a cudgel 50 times, but it was his last torture.
Back in his cell, knowing that he was dying, he said to his fellow Catholics, "I had hoped to give witness to the faith by dying under the sword. But it is God's will that I die in prison."
A few hours later, on September 12, 1839, he drew his last breath. He was thirty-five years old. Although his death was not as dramatic as being beheaded, his spirit still shines as a heroic sign of true faith for all believers.
His wife, unable to overcome her motherly love for her young children, agreed to apostatize but immediately regretted her decision and withdrew it. After great suffering, she was beheaded at Tangkogae on December 29, 1839, at the age of thirty-nine. Francis was canonized on May 6, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.
Ch'oe Kyong-hwan Francis' oldest son, Ch'oe Yang-up Thomas(1821-1861), was ordained a priest in Shanghai in 1849 and returned to Korea. He worked in Korea for twelve years, going to isolated country places where no foreign priest could venture. He also gathered much information about the martyrs, translated it into Latin and sent it to Rome. Dallet's History of the Church in Korea, owes indeed much to the work done by Father Ch'oe Yang-up Thomas at that time. Apart from the history of the Church in Korea, Father Ch'oe also wrote much on Korean culture, customs, geography, literature and art, introducing these to a wider Western audience.He also produced books on Catholic teaching for the use of the Korean believers. The words of one of his poems described his mind:
"Oh yes, my friends, Let us search for our true home."