Augustine Jeong Yak-jong (1760-1801)
Augustine Jeong Yak-jong was born in 1760 in Majae, Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do (now, Neungnae-ri, Joan-myeon, Namyangju-si, Gyeonggi-do) to a renowned scholarly family. St. Cecilia Yu So-sa who was martyred in 1839 was his second wife. Charles Jeong Cheol-sang, who was martyred in 1801, and St. Paul Jeong Ha-sang and St. Elizabeth Jeong Jeong-hye, who were martyred in 1839, were his sons and daughter.
It was in 1786, two years after the Catholic Church was introduced to Korea, that Augustine Jeong came to know about the Catholic religion. He learned the catechism from his elder brother. He received the Sacrament of Baptism when he understood the doctrine of the Catholic religion in depth. He devoted himself to teaching it to his family.
Later on he moved to Bunwon (now, Bunwon-ri, Namjong-myeon, Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do) to practice his religion with more freedom. By that time his brothers began to distance themselves gradually from the Church, but he devoted himself to practicing the teaching of the Church with even greater ardour.
As time passed, Augustine Jeong became more ardent and committed. He had frequent contact with the faithful in neighboring villages, and invited them to his house to teach them the catechism. He took an active part in church activities. While doing all of this his knowledge of the Catholic doctrine grew deeper and he was a good example for other Catholics.
When the Chinese priest, Father James Zhou Wen-mo, came to Korea at the end of 1794, Augustine Jeong often went to Seoul to meet him and received the Sacraments. He was very committed to helping Father James Zhou and the faithful with church affairs. Based on his broad knowledge of the catechism he wrote two volumes of “Jugyo-yoji", a Catechism in the Korean language which was easy for everybody to understand. His books, with the approval of Father James Zhou, were widely distributed to the faithful.
Meanwhile, Father James Zhou organized the `Myeongdohoe`, a community of lay believers, and appointed Augustine Jeong as the first chairperson.
In 1800, he and his family moved to Seoul as the persecution had started in the neighboring region. The following year, however, when the Shinyu Persecution broke out in 1801, the entire Catholic Church in Korea was in danger.
From the outbreak of the persecution, Augustine Jeong’s name was high on the list of those wanted by the police, and his books were sent to the government office for inspection. As a result, the royal court ordered his immediate arrest. On February 11, 1801, according to the Lunar calendar, he was arrested and taken to the Supreme Court.
The following day, Augustine Jeong underwent severe interrogation and punishment. However, he was resolved from the beginning to die for God, so temptation and torture failed to break his resolve. During this time of suffering, he said nothing which might be harmful to the Church or the faithful, only attempting to explain the truth of Catholic doctrine.
“There is nothing wrong with worshipping the Lord, it is right and proper.... God is ‘our Great King and the Great Father of heaven and earth.’ If we do not understand the reason why we must worship God, we are sinners under heaven, and though we are alive we are dead.”
The persecutors used every means possible to make Augustine Jeong recant, but his faith was never shaken, and the Catholic teaching which he preached confused his persecutors.
Finally, the royal court approved the death sentence, which had been handed down by the Justice Ministry. As a result, just fifteen days after his arrest, Augustine Jeong was taken outside the Small West Gate in Seoul to be executed. As the cart was ready to take him to the execution ground, he stepped up onto it and said to the people gathered around him in a loud voice:
“Brothers and Sisters, do not laugh at us. We believe that it is natural for all people who are born in the world to die for God. On the day of the last judgment, our tears will change into pure bliss, and your merry laughter will turn into bitter pain.”
As soon as he reached the execution ground, the process of beheading began. Augustine Jeong surrendered his last breath into the hands of the Lord saying, “It is better to die looking up to the sky than to live looking down on the earth.” He was executed on April 8, 1801 (February 26, according to the Lunar calendar), at the age of forty-one.