Paul Yi Gyeong-eon (1792-1827)
Paul Yi Gyeong-eon, also called ‘Jong-hoe` or `Gyeong-byeong`, was born in 1792 in Seoul to a renowned scholarly family. His grandfather was the magistrate of Yeon-gi, Chungcheong-do. His father Matthew Yi Yun-ha followed in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather, Yi Ik, who was a famous scholar of that time. His mother was the sister of Francis Xavier Kwon Il-sin who was one of the Founding Fathers of the Catholic Church in Korea. Charles Yi Gyeong-do, who was martyred in 1802 in Seoul, was his elder brother, and Lutgarda Yi Sun-i who was also martyred in Jeonju in 1802 was his elder sister.
Paul Yi learned the catechism from his parents when he was a young boy and practiced it faithfully. Though he was physically weak, he was docile and strong and had a noble character. After his elder brother and elder sister were martyred during the Shinyu Persecution in 1801, his family had to live in extreme poverty. living with his mother and sister-in-law, he endured poverty with faith in God. When he was 22, he married a woman from a middle class family who was bad-tempered, but he tolerated her with Christian charity.
Paul Yi often suffered from severe intestinal sickness, but he accepted it without complaint, and knew how to keep a peaceful face. He read the Bible often and meditated on it deeply. He always tried to lead lukewarm Catholics in the right way. He encouraged believers and devoted himself to proclaiming the Gospel to non-believers. He tried to help those who were poorer than himself. Peter Jo Suk who was martyred in 1819 helped him with his faith life.
Paul Yi participated in the `Myeongdohoe`, a gathering of the laity where doctrine and scripture were studied. Using his knowledge and talent, he transcribed or copied religion books, reproduced images of Jesus and Mary, and distributed them to believers.
He tried to provide the expenses necessary for the secret envoys to Beijing, as well as devoting himself to training members of the Myeongdohoe as catechists. He made it possible for St. Paul Jeong Ha-sang to go on his mission trips to Beijing.
Paul Yi always had the wish in his heart to die a martyr. He often meditated on the Passion of Jesus Christ and urged the faithful to be prepared to die for the Lord. When the Jeonghae Persecution broke out in 1827, Paul Yi was reported to the government office of Jeonju for distributing Catholic books and images of Jesus and Mary. The governor of Jeonju sent the police to Seoul to arrest him. Paul Yi was captured and taken first to the Police Headquarters where he professed his faith in God. He was transferred to Jeonju according to the order of the royal court. What happened thereafter is well illustrated in his diary which he wrote while he was in prison in Jeonju.
In the midst of severe punishment, Paul Yi had to redouble his efforts to be faithful to God and die for Him. His only desire was to follow his elder brother and elder sister who had died for God. He sent three letters from prison to his mother, wife, family and to the members of the Myeongdohoe. His firm resolution is well expressed in these letters:
"My weak body can hardly endure the physical pains. If it were not for God`s grace and the help of our Holy Mother, how could I endure it even for a moment? …… God has supported me with His countless graces up to the present, so, I have confidence that He will never abandon me. If I go to Heaven first, I will welcome whoever comes to that big house, and I will lead them to our universal Father. There we shall praise and adore Him for ever."
He tried his best to stand firm and to profess his faith. Frail in body the harsh treatment weakened him to death. The wounds that covered his whole body had become deeper. He spent his last few days in terrible suffering and pain. On June 27, 1827 (May 4, by the Lunar calendar) he surrendered his soul into God`s hands. Paul Yi was 35 years old.