John Choe Hae-seong (1811-1839)
John Choe Hae-seong, also called ‘Yang-bak`, was a relative of St. Francis Choe Gyeong-hwan who was martyred in 1839. His family originally lived in Darakgol in Hongju, Chungcheong-do (now, Nongam-ri, Hwaseong-myeon, Cheongyang-gun, Chungnam). His grandfather was arrested during the Shinyu Persecution of 1801 and condemned to exile. The whole family moved to the place of exile and lived there. It was in that place that John Choe was born and grew up.
John Choe learned the catechism when he was a boy. He was gentle and honest. John Choe moved with his family to Seoji, Wonju, Gangwon-do (now, Songok 2-ri, Buron-myeon, Wonju-si, Gangwon-do) to have more freedom to practice his religious life. He formed a small Christian village there.
John Choe lived out his Christian obligations with passion and kept his soul holy and pure. Though he was poor, he never neglected those who were in more need than himself. He often encouraged the believers saying, `Truly it is a great privilege to die for the Lord`.
When a missionary came to the Seoji Christian village and administered the Sacraments, John felt indescribable joy and was full of ardor for the love of God. John Choe was appointed to be the catechist of the Seoji Christian Village because of his profound devotion and virtue. When he received the Sacrament of Confirmation, he demonstrated that he had received the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit because he was full of grace and filled with an ardent desire for martyrdom.
When the Gihae Persecution broke out in 1839, John Choe took his parents and family to a safer place. He was arrested when he went home to bring the religious books. The police beat him with an iron flail to force him `to tell the whereabouts of other Catholics` but, he did not surrender to their demands. While his entire body was covered with wounds and suffering terribly he saw, with the eyes of his soul, Jesus walking up Mount Calvary carrying a heavy cross on his shoulder.
Taken to the chief official of Wonju, John Choe was interrogated and tortured again severely to force him to reveal the whereabouts of Catholics. But he bravely replied saying, "I refuse to denounce them.` The chief official interrogated him, `Is it true that you believe in an evil religion?` He replied, "I do not believe in an evil religion. I only believe in Catholicism that worships the Lord."
John Choe was put in prison and some days later he was called for another session of interrogation. The chief official tried hard to tempt him to betray God, but he refused saying, "I cannot betray my Lord and tell a lie, though you offer me the whole village of Wonju."
After that John Choe was often taken out of the prison and underwent terrible interrogation and torture in front of the governor or a chief commander. Despite this he never complained, praying all the time to Jesus and Mary and asking them to help him. They tortured him by twisting his legs with two sticks inserted between them. His body was completely broken. He repeatedly fainted but regained consciousness each time. One day when he was being taken to the chief official for interrogation, he replied as follows:
"If I want to preserve my short life on earth, my soul will die forever. Therefore, I cannot betray my Lord. If someone has made a promise to die for the king and for justice, and betrays him, he is a traitor. I have vowed to worship the great God of heaven and earth, so, how can I betray Him just for fear of punishment?"
Then the chief official got very angry and ordered that he be punished more cruelly. Again his body was beaten to a bloody pulp, but his soul exulted in the love of God.
After he was returned to prison, he was tempted temporarily, but, he prostrated before our Lord Jesus. He prayed to Him and overcame his human weakness. Peace and spiritual joy returned to his heart. He was finally sentenced to death. He was beheaded and died a martyr on September 6, 1839 (July 29, by the Lunar calendar). John Choe was 28 years old.