Seoul (AsiaNews) - Defending the faith and spread it as far as possible, despite the high risks posed by the terrible persecution unleashed by the Korean kingdom against Catholicism. It is the way of life of Columba Kang Wan-suk, known as the "catechist of the Korean martyrs" who gave up the privileges of noble birth for the sake of the Gospel and that preferred the torture and death to abjure.
Columba Kang is among the group of 123 companions of Paul Yun Ji-chung, victims of the Byeongin persecution (between the first and the second half of the 800) and proclaimed "servants of God" by Pope John Paul II in 2003 along with Fr. Choi Yang-oeb. The Korean Catholic Church is waiting for their beatification, and the Bishop of Daejeon Msgr. Lazzaro You Heung-sik has invited Pope Francis to Korea for the occasion. In the country these days there is also Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of Propaganda Fide, which will also visit two sanctuaries dedicated to the Korean martyrs.
AsiaNews has already presented the life of some of these martyrs and continues to offer their witness to readers.
Columba Kang Wan-suk was born out of wedlock in 1761, to a noble family in Naepo, Chungcheong-do. Ever since her childhood she was remarkably wise and honest, and avoided any kind of wrong doing. Philip Hong Pil-ju who was martyred in 1801 was her step-son. When she grew up, she became the second wife of Hong Ji-yeong, who lived in the Deoksan region. Soon after their marriage, she heard about the Catholic religion and became interested in it. She obtained some Catholic books which she read and came to realize the greatness of the Catholic faith. She believed that "God is the Master of heaven and earth, and what the name of this religion signifies is right, therefore, its doctrine must be true."
Thereafter, Columba Kang believed her religion with passion and practiced self-denial. Such a life was sufficient to win her the admiration of many people. At the risk of putting herself in great danger, she took care of Catholics in prison during the Sinhae Persecution of 1791. While doing this work she herself was imprisoned once. She taught the catechism to her mother-in-law and her step-son, Philip Hong and introduced them to the Church. Despite all her efforts, she failed to convert her husband who mistreated her because of her faith. He finally left her and lived with a concubine.
One day, Columba Kang came to know that Catholics in Seoul were well versed in the catechism. After having consulted with her mother-in-law and her step-son Philip Hong, she moved to Seoul. She contacted the believers in Seoul and associated with them. When the Korean Catholics started a movement to invite priests, she provided financial support to those who were engaged in it. Columba Kang was baptized by Father James Zhou Wen-mo who came to Korea at the end of 1794 and committed herself to helping his apostolate. Father James Zhou, on recognizing the high quality and sincerity of Columba Kang, appointed her as catechist, to take care of the believers.
Then, when the Eulmyo Persecution broke out in 1795, Columba Kang offered her house to Father James Zhou as a refuge. Her house was relatively safe because the social custom of Korean society, at that time, banned investigation of a house of the noble class, whose landlord was a woman. After that Columba Kang often moved for the safety of Father James Zhou. Everywhere she moved, her house served as a place of gathering for the faithful. It was at Columba Kang's house that Agatha Yun Jeom-hye led the community of women virgins.
Columba Kang was able to influence many people and introduce them to the Church because she combined knowledge with wisdom and quick wit. Among them were people from different classes of society including noble women, widows, servants and maids. It was thanks to Columba Kang that Mary Song and her daughter-in-law Mary Sin, relatives of the royal family, received the Sacrament of Baptism from Father James Zhou. For such apostolic activities of Columba Kang the believers unanimously said, "Kang Wan-suk advised people with such wisdom and grace that even many devout male believers were inspired. It was like when one strikes the gong, sound follows."
When the Shinyu Persecution broke out in 1801, Columba Kang was immediately reported to the government office for her religious activities. Consequently, she was arrested in her house on April 6 (February 24, by the Lunar calendar) with the other believers who were there and was taken to the Police Headquarters in Seoul. Even in such a time of crisis Columba Kang was concerned about the safety of Father James Zhou.
To find out the whereabouts of Father James Zhou they tortured Columba Kang six times, but it was in vain. Her faith in God was so firm that even the executioners were moved and they exclaimed: "This woman is not a human being, but a god." During the three months she was imprisoned, Columba Kang never neglected her religious duties, and prepared herself for martyrdom by encouraging her companions in prison to be faithful to their belief and trust in God. Columba Kang was condemned to death on July 2, 1801 (May 22, by the Lunar calendar). She was beheaded outside the Small West Gate in Seoul with her fellow believers and died a martyr. Columba Kang was 40 years old.