The "new" Korean martyrs bear witness to Christ at knife point
by Joseph Yun Li-sun
The Korean Church waits for the canonization of Paul Yun Ji-chung and his 123 companions, proclaimed Servants of God by the Vatican in 2003. Bishop of Daejeon: "It would be nice to have Pope Francis here to celebrate together." Their blood "sustains all people" and their stories are an extraordinary example of fidelity and love for the Gospel. AsiaNews presents a number of biographies, beginning with Paul Yun.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The Korean Church "is waiting for the canonization of Paul Yun Ji-chung and his 123 companions, killed in hatred of the faith during the Byeongin persecution (first and second half of the 1800) and proclaimed Servants of God by the Pope in 2003".  The bishop of Daejeon, Msgr. Lazzaro You Heung-sik, tells AsiaNews who plans to invite Pope Francis to Korea for the occasion.

By the same token, the local Bishops' Conference has prepared a site to present the life and martyrdom of these witnesses of Christ. The biographies of the martyrs emphasize the extreme violence carried out by the Korean kingdom against Catholics and firmness and love with which they responded to hatred and persecution.

The blood of the martyrs, says Msgr. You, "supports all of the Korean Church. By their example and their testimony they gave life to our faith. We soon hope to honor them as saints." AsiaNews proposes a series to present the brightest witnesses of this martyrdom, beginning with Paul Yun.


Paul Yun Ji-chung was born in 1759 to a renowned noble family in Janggu-dong, Jinsan, Jeolla-do. His adult name was 'Uyong'. Francis Yun Ji-heon, who was martyred in Jeonju during the Shinyu Persecution of 1801, was his younger brother.

Paul Yun, who was intelligent and trustworthy, devoted himself to studying from an early age. He passed the first state examination in the spring of 1783. Around that time Paul Yun came to know about the Catholic faith from John Jeong Yak-yong, a son of his father's sister. He began to read books about it. He was baptized by Peter Yi Seung-hun in 1787, having studied the Catholic doctrine for three years.

Paul Yun taught the catechism to his mother, his younger brother Francis Yun, James Kwon Sang-yeon, a son of his mother's sister, and introduced them to the Catholic Church. He also endeavored to proclaim the Gospel, together with Augustine Yu Hang-geom, a relative by marriage.

In 1790, when Bishop A. Gouvea of Beijing issued a decree prohibiting the practice of the ancestral rites, Paul Yun and his cousin James Kwon burned the ancestral tablet. When his mother, aunt of James Kwon, died in the summer of the following year he performed the funeral ceremony according to the Catholic rite instead of the Confucian rite. This was also his mother's wish.
Very soon, a rumor was spread that Paul Yun did not offer the funeral ancestral rite and, that he had burned the ancestral tablet. When the rumor reached the royal court it was furious. After a while the royal court ordered the magistrate of Jinsan to 'arrest Yun Ji-chung and Kwon Sang-yeon.'

Upon hearing the news Paul Yun took refuge in Gwangchoen, Chungcheong-do and James Kwon in Hansan, Chungcheong-do. Then, the magistrate of Jinsan detained Paul Yun's uncle instead of them. When Paul Yun and James Kwon heard this news they left their hiding places, and surrendered themselves to the magistrate of Jinsan. It was around the middle of October, 1791.
At first the magistrate of Jinsan tried to persuade them to renounce their faith. But they said that they could not renounce their faith under any circumstances. They emphatically asserted that the Catholic teaching is the true teaching. The magistrate, on realizing that he could not change their minds, ordered that they be transferred to the Jeonju governor's office.

Paul Yun and James Kwon were interrogated from the day after they arrived in Jeonju. The governor tried every means possible to get the names of other Catholics from them, but his effort was in vain. They defended their faith with determination and did not utter even one word that would do harm to the Church or to other Catholics. Paul Yun, in particular, pointed out article by article the irrationality of the Confucian ancestral rites by explaining the doctrine of the Catholic Church. This infuriated the governor, and he ordered that they be severely punished.
Paul Yun and James Kwon were already prepared to die for God. Their only answer was; "We serve God as our 'Great Father', therefore, we cannot worship Him by disobeying His Commandments."

The governor of Jeonju finally made them write their final statements and submitted them to the royal court. Once again these upset the royal court and tension ran high. The ministers of the royal court claimed that "Yun Ji-chung and Kwon Sang-yeon should be beheaded." The king accepted the opinion of the ministers, and finally permitted the execution.

The following is an excerpt from the governor's report to the royal court:

"Though the bodies of Yun Ji-chung and Kwon Sang-yeon were covered all over with blood, they did not even groan. They refused to renounce their faith in God saying, 'God's teaching is very strict, so we cannot disobey Him, though we may disobey our parents and the king.' They said that it is a great honor to die for God under the blade of a knife."

As soon as the judicial decision reached the Jeonju governor, Paul Yun and James Kwon were dragged from their prison cell and taken outside the South Gate of Jeonju. Paul Yun looked as happy as someone going to a banquet. He ceaselessly explained the Catholic doctrine to the people who were following them. On December 8, 1791 (November 13, by the Lunar calendar), they were beheaded and died martyrs while praying to Jesus and Mary. Paul Yun was 32 years old.

The families had to wait for nine days to get permission from the governor to release the bodies of Paul Yun and James Kwon for burial. They were surprised to find that both martyrs looked as if they had just been decapitated and the blood stains seemed bright and fresh. The faithful soaked handkerchiefs in the blood of the martyrs and sent some of them to Bishop A. Gouvea in Beijing. Some sick people, in danger of death, were restored to health on touching these handkerchiefs.