Matthias Choe In-gil (1765-1795)
Matthias Choe In-gil was born in 1765 to a translator‘s family. He learned the catechism from John B. Yi Byeok and became a Catholic in 1784, right after the Catholic Church was introduced to Korea. Ignatius Choe In-cheol who was martyred in 1801 was his younger brother.
From the early years of the Church Matthias Choe had taken a lead in proclaiming the Gospel with other Catholics. When Paul Yun Yu-il returned from his visit to the Catholic Church in Beijing, Matthias Choe participated in the efforts to introduce priests. In particular he was in charge of providing hiding places for the missionaries. He prepared a house in Gyedong in Seoul (now, Gye-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul) and waited for the arrival of the missionaries.
Father James Zhou Wen-mo, a Chinese priest, finally entered Korea on December 24, 1794 (November 3, by the Lunar calendar), and was introduced to Matthias Choe`s house at the beginning of the following year. He tried to ensure the safety of Father James Zhou day and night, but the royal court came to know about his entry into Korea through a secret informer. Fortunately, Father James Zhou managed to escape secretly to the house of Columba Kang Wan-suk. In the meantime, Matthias Choe, who waited for the police in his house, disguised himself as Father James Zhou in order to give him more time to take refuge. He was able to devise such a scheme because he spoke Chinese fluently.
His plan, however, did not last long. Soon after he was captured, his identity was revealed and the police set out in search of Father James Zhou once again but did not succeed in finding him. Full details of how Father James Zhou entered the country soon became known, and Paul Yun and Saba Ji who accompanied him were arrested.
Matthias Choe and his companions were severely punished at the Police Headquarters. The persecutors were confused by the sincerity of their answers, their patience and firm determination. Even while undergoing repeated torture, they did not reveal the whereabouts of Father James Zhou. Rather, their faces reflected that their hearts were full of heavenly peace.
The persecutors, on realizing that they would not betray Father James Zhou, decided to beat them to death. Matthias Choe and his companions were killed by being mercilessly whipped. It was on June 28, 1795 (May 12, by the Lunar calendar). Matthias Choe was 30 years old. Their bodies were thrown into the Han River.
Bishop A. Gouvea, on hearing the full story of their martyrdom through a secret envoy, wrote as follows about the courage that Matthias Choe and his companions had shown at the moment of their martyrdom:
"To the question of the persecutor; `Do you worship Jesus who died on the cross?` they replied courageously; `Yes, we do.` When they were asked to renounce their faith in Christ, they declared; `We are ready to die a thousand times rather than to renounce our faith in our true Savior Jesus Christ.` Matthias Choe was one of the first catechists that Peter Yi Seung-hun selected to proclaim the faith. He was one of the prominent Catholics, who was committed to spreading the glory of God with faith, zeal and devotion."