Thomas Choe Pil-gong (1744-1801)
Thomas Choe Pil-gong was born in 1744 to a family who practiced Chinese medicine in Seoul. He learned the catechism in 1790, with his cousin Peter Choe Pil-je and both of them became Catholics. He was 47 years old at that time. Some of his ancestors served as medical officers of the royal court, but Thomas Choe did not hold any official position. Besides he was so poor that he had to remain single until he could afford to marry. He was frank and generous by nature.
As soon as he became a Catholic, Thomas Choe practiced his religion earnestly. He openly preached about the Catholic teaching and so he was wanted by the police.
When the Sinhae Persecution broke out in 1791, Thomas Choe was arrested along with some leading members of the Church. Most of the others betrayed their religion and were released. Thomas Choe adhered firmly to his religion by explaining the Catholic teaching to his interrogators. The officers reported this to the royal court and King Jeong-jo ordered them ‘to use every means to make Choe Pil-gong renounce` the Catholic religion.
One day Thomas Choe`s uncle and his younger brothers visited him in prison, and in tears, implored him to give up his religion. It was of no avail. Then his cousin Peter Choe wrote a false statement of confession for Thomas Choe and presented it to the persecutors. King Jeong-jo ordered the officers `to imprison Choe Pil-gong but to treat him in a special way.` With all these stories Thomas Choe lost courage and ended up surrendering to the temptations.
Released from prison Thomas Choe was appointed as a special pharmacist in Pyeongan-do. His role was to inspect the medicinal herbs used in the royal court. He even got married with the king`s help.
However, deep in his heart, Thomas Choe kept his faith in God. Three years later he resigned his position and returned to Seoul. He began to practice his religion with fervor. When Father James Zhou Wen-mo came to Korea in late 1794 Thomas Choe visited him and received the Sacraments. He took an active part in Church activities.
In August 1799 Thomas Choe was arrested again and interrogated. Then regretting deeply that his faith was shaken in 1791, he confessed that, `What I said was not my real intention.` King Jeong-jo tried to win his heart again, but it was in vain. Thomas Choe refused to betray God, explaining bravely the major points of Catholic teaching. The officers requested the king to behead Thomas Choe, but the king refused and ordered to release him.
On December 17, 1800 (by the Lunar calendar), just before the Shinyu Persecution broke out, the Justice Ministry arrested Thomas Choe again. Two days later, his brother Peter Choe was also arrested and imprisoned.
Thomas Choe had to go through much more severe punishments than anyone else because of his involvement in Church activities. Despite such punishments his faith in God remained steadfast and he did not reveal the names of any Catholics. From the beginning he declared, "I have no intention of abandoning my faith in God."
Finally Thomas Choe was sentenced to death. He almost lost consciousness when he got on the cart to go to the execution ground because of his advanced age and the severe treatment he had gone through. But when he arrived at the execution ground his face became full of light, radiating happiness. At the first stroke of the knife his throat was cut and blood came pouring out. Thomas Choe shouted, "Oh, precious blood" and died. It was on April 8, 1801 (February 26, by the Lunar calendar). Thomas Choe was 57 years old.