James Won Si-bo (1730-1799)
James Won Si-bo was born in Eungjeong-ri, Hongju, Chungcheong-do (now, Seongdong-ri, Hapdeok-eup, Dangjin-gun, Chungnam) into a commoner class family. Between 1788-1789, a few years after the Catholic Church was established in Korea, James Won, who was almost 60 years old, became a Catholic along with his cousin Peter Won Si-jang. ‘Si-bo’ was his adult name.
By nature James Won was kind, honest and cheerful. As soon as he became a Catholic he began faithfully to observe the teachings of the Church and he devoted himself to practicing the virtues, donated his wealth to the poor, and fasted every Friday. He tried to spread the Gospel traveling from place to place, and as a result his name was well known to many people.
When the Sinhae Persecution broke out in 1791, many Catholics were arrested. At that time the magistrate of Hongju ordered the police to arrest James Won and his cousin Peter Won. On the advice of his friends, James Won escaped, but Peter was arrested and martyred after being severely tortured. When James Won heard the news, he deeply regretted missing the opportunity of martyrdom and, as a result, practiced his faith all the more fervently. Around 1795, James Won met Father James Zhou Wen-mo who refused to baptize him because he had a concubine. When he returned home he immediately sent the woman away.
Two years later the Jeongsa Persecution broke out and swept through the entire region of Chungcheong-do. It was during this turmoil that James Won, then sixty-eight years old, was arrested in 1798 and subsequently punished and tortured at the Deoksan government office. Despite suffering severe torture he never yielded and professed his faith in God saying, "I will practice my Catholic religion to serve the Lord and save my soul." Next, he was transferred to Hongju for a time only to be brought back again to Deoksan where he was repeatedly beaten and interrogated. During this period of torture both his legs were broken.
In 1799 the governor ordered that James Won be taken to the military headquarters in Cheongju. The day he left Deoksan, his wife, children and friends all followed him crying. He responded by telling them:
"To serve the Lord and save souls, we should not follow human instincts. If we endure all the pains, we will be recompensed by the bliss of meeting our Lord Jesus Christ and his Holy Mother Mary. If you stay here, my heart will become weak. I may not be able to persevere in my faith, and commit a great folly against God. So please go back home."
On arriving in Cheongju, James Won was taken to the chief official to be punished. The chief official tried his best to make James Won betray God, but it was in vain because James Won`s heart was filled with an ardent desire to die a martyr.
The beatings James Won suffered in Deoksan severely damaged and broke his legs. He had to endure many forms of torture and punishment which eventually came to an end with his death. He died on April 17, 1799 (March 13, by the Lunar calendar). at sixty-nine years of age.
When he died as a martyr, his body was surrounded with mysterious splendor. It is said that about fifty families who witnessed this scene later became Catholics.