Saba Ji Hwang (1767-1795)
Saba Ji Hwang, also known as ‘Ji Hong` was born in 1767 to a musician`s family in the royal court. When he heard that the Gospel was being proclaimed in Korea he volunteered to learn the catechism, and became a Catholic. Saba Ji was diligent and honest and devoted himself to loving God and practicing his religion. He was even determined to give his life for God. He was never afraid or confused when he was faced with danger, poverty or sufferings.
From 1789, Catholic leaders in Korea made great efforts to invite priests to Korea. The first attempt in 1791 ended in failure. All efforts had to be stopped for a while because of the persecution that broke out at the end of that year.
It was not until 1793 that efforts to invite a priest were resumed. Paul Yun Yu-il, who had already been to Beijing, Saba Ji and John Pak were selected to go to Beijing as secret envoys. They went together to the border and Saba Ji and John Pak headed to Beijing with the diplomatic envoys. Paul Yun stayed at the border.
Soon after they arrived in Beijing, Saba Ji contacted Bishop A. Gouvea of Beijing. The Bishop was impressed by Saba Ji`s deep piety and later wrote as follows:
"We witnessed the faith of Saba Ji in 1793. During his forty-day-stay in Beijing he received the Sacraments of Confirmation, Penance, and Holy Communion with ardent devotion and tears in his eyes. On seeing this, the faithful of Beijing were deeply moved."
In 1794, Bishop A. Gouvea sent Father James Zhou Wen-mo as a missionary to Korea. Saba Ji and Father James Zhou met and arranged the date and place they would meet at the border. Each took a different route to get to the meeting place because the border was under strict surveillance. They had to separate again and wait until the Amnok River would freeze before they could cross it.
Saba Ji returned to Korea for a while and went to the appointed place to meet Father James Zhou. This time he succeeded in bringing Father James Zhou into Korea secretely, in the middle of the night on December 24 (December 3, by the Lunar calendar). Twelve days later, with the help of Paul Yun he brought Father James Zhou safely to the house of Matthias Choe In-gil in Seoul.
Father James Zhou spent a few months in safe hiding, but, eventually the royal court came to know about his presence in the country through a secret informer. Fortunately, thanks to the prompt help of the faithful Father James Zhou managed to escape to another house. Matthias Choe, the owner of the house, and Saba Ji and Paul Yun, who helped him to evade the border guards, were all arrested.
Saba Ji and his companions were taken to the Police Headquarters and severely punished. They were tortured repeatedly to force them to confess the whereabouts of Father James Zhou, but they refused to betray him. Rather, their faces reflected that their hearts were full of heavenly joy.
The persecutors, on realizing that they would not betray Father James Zhou, beat them to death. Their bodies were thrown into the Han River secretly on June 28, 1795 (May 12, by the Lunar calendar). Saba Ji was 28 years old.
Bishop A. Gouvea, on hearing the full story of their martyrdom, through a secret envoy, wrote about the courage that Saba Ji and his companions had shown at the moment of their martyrdom:
"To the question of the persecutor; 'Do you worship Jesus who died on the cross?' they replied courageously; 'Yes, we do.' When they were asked to renounce their faith in Christ, they declared; 'We are ready to die a thousand times rather than to renounce our faith in our true Savior Jesus Christ.'"