Francis Yi Bo-hyeon (1773-1800)
Francis Yi Bo-hyeon was born in Hwangmosil, Deoksan, Chungcheong-do (now, Hoeum-ri, Godeok-myeon, Yesan-gun, Chungnam) into a family of common class. His father died when he was young, and Francis was reputed to have been stubborn and reckless in his youth and adolescence.
When he was twenty years old, Francis Yi studied the catechism under Thomas Hwang Sim, who was living near his hometown and had accepted the Catholic faith. Later, Thomas Hwang Sim became a secret envoy of the Church and traveled to Beijing. He also married Francis Yi’s sister. Soon after discovering the truth, Francis Yi corrected his reckless behavior. And although he did not want to, he married so as to obey his mother's wish. In order to freely practice his religion, he moved, with Thomas Hwang, to Yeonsan, Chungcheong-do. In 1795 he invited Father James Zhou Wen-mo to his house and received the sacraments from him.
As he came to understand Catholic teaching in a deeper way, Francis Yi’s faith in God increased day by day; sometimes he went to the mountain to pray alone and practice mortification for his sins.
In 1797, when many Catholics were arrested during the Jeongsa Persecution, Francis Yi, who was never afraid of persecution, tried to encourage his family and fellow believers to be faithful to their religion. Every day he reminded them of the Passion of Jesus and encouraged them "to profess their faith in God with courage, and not to miss the opportunity of going to Heaven."
One or two years after the Persecution, Francis Yi had a premonition concerning the onset of a new danger. He invited all the village people and offered them food and wine, saying, "This is my last feast." Indeed two days after that, the police came to Yeonsan to arrest him. They took him to the magistrate.
The magistrate of Yeonsan, having confirmed that Francis was a Catholic, tried to make him betray God and confess the whereabouts of other Catholics and Church books. However, Francis Yi refused to become an apostate. He replied, "I cannot give books on God, who is the Great King of the universe, into the hands of the chief official." The chief official was very angry with him and ordered that he be severely beaten and put in prison.
Later, on the order of the governor of Chungcheong, Francis Yi was taken to the chief commander of Haemi, who ruled the region around Francis' hometown, Deoksan. During this period, he was again punished many times in an effort to force him to betray his religion. But it was in vain. He replied to the interrogator as follows:
"The origin of human beings is the Lord who created them at the beginning of the world. So it is impossible for me not to worship Him."
Francis Yi was punished for more than half a day, but he stood firm. In prison, he kept praying peacefully and offered encouragement to the other Catholic prisoners. The chief commander of Haemi consulted with the governor about Francis Yi. And as a result, the governor sent an order to "beat him to death if he does not confess all". Consequently, he went through interrogation and torture one more time, after which the chief commander presented him with his sentence of the death penalty in writing. He signed it with serenity.
The following morning, Francis Yi was taken to the market place and severely beaten. While he was still alive the persecutors knocked him to the ground and beat his genitals until he died. In this way Francis Yi died a martyr. It was on January 9, 1800 (December 15, 1799 by the Lunar calendar). At the time of his death Francis Yi was twenty-seven years old.
A few days later when some of the faithful came to get his body, they found Francis Yi’s face bathed in a mysterious peacefulness, with a smile despite the cruel punishment he had endured. It is said that several people who witnessed this sight became Catholics.