Simon Hwang Il-gwang (1757-1802)
Simon Hwang Il-gwang was born in Hongju, Chungcheong-do to a low-class family. His family was very poor when he was a child. But God`s providence gave him remarkable intelligence, an enthusiastic heart, and a cheerful and honest character to compensate for his deprivation in childhood. Around 1792, he moved to Hongsan.
It was at that time that he heard about Louis Gonzaga Yi Jon-chang and went to see him to learn about the Catholic teaching. As soon as he understood the faith, he accepted it fully. He left his hometown and moved to Gyeongsang-do with his younger brother Hwang Cha-dol to have more freedom to practice his religious life.
The Catholics knew about the social status of Simon Hwang, but they welcomed him with open hearts and surrounded him with Christian charity. Even to the noble families he was on a par with other Catholics. On receiving such treatment he sometimes made jokes as follows:
"Here, everybody treats me as a human person despite my low-class status. Now, I believe that Heaven exists here and hereafter."
In February 1800 Simon Hwang moved to the neighboring house of Augustine Jeong Yak-jong who was living in Bunwon, Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do. He often visited prominent Catholic leaders such as Alexius Hwang Sa-yeong and Peter Kim Han-bin among others. Everybody admired him for his sincerity and the earnest attitude toward his faith, that was growing deeper every day.
When Augustine Jeong moved to Seoul Simon Hwang also moved to Jeong-dong, Seoul with his younger brother, and made his living by selling firewood. At the same time he did his best to help with the works of the Church. He was baptized by Father James Zhou Wen-mo, and enjoyed the opportunity to attend Mass with the faithful.
When the Shinyu Persecution broke out in 1801 Simon Hwang was arrested while he was on his way to the mountain to get firewood. He was interrogated and tortured many times both at the Police Headquarters and the Justice Ministry, but he did not reveal any names of the other believers. He endured all the trials and suffering with heroism and did not yield even to the yelling of the judge but stated the following, affirming that the Catholic religion is a `holy religion`:
"I think Catholicism is an authentic religion, and I am deeply imbued with it. Now I am facing death, but how can I abandon my Catholic faith and apostatize? My only wish is to die as quickly as possible."
As a result, Simon Hwang was cruelly beaten, to the point that one of his legs was broken. He was sentenced to death with other Catholics. The royal court ordered that `Hwang Il-gwang be sent to his hometown and beheaded there so as to turn the villagers against the Catholic religion.`
In accordance with the order that was given, Simon Hwang was transferred to his hometown, Hongju to be beheaded. He was carried on a stretcher because he could not walk due to his severe injuries and wounds. But he did not lose his cheerful nature. His wife and son followed him to be able to help him to the last moment. But he ordered them not to come close to him because he was afraid that he might be tempted by them, to give up his faith. Upon arriving in Hongju, he was beheaded and died a martyr. It was on January 30, 1802 (December 27, 1801 by the Lunar calendar). Simon Hwang was 45 years old.