Columba Kang, the catechist of Korean martyrs
Kang was one of the 123 companions of Paul Yun Ji-chung, victims of the Byeongin persecution. Pope John Paul II had proclaimed them ‘Servants of God’ in 2003.
The Korean Catholic Church celebrated September as Martyr’s month and is eagerly waiting for canonization of 124 nineteenth century witnesses of Christ. Columba Kang Wan-suk, known as the ‘catechist of the Korean martyrs’, stands out among them.
She was one of the 123 companions of Paul Yun Ji-chung, victims of the Byeongin persecution. Pope John Paul II had proclaimed them ‘Servants of God’ in 2003.
"Kang Wan-suk advised people with such wisdom and grace that even many devout male believers were inspired. It was like when one strikes the gong, sound follows," the citation about her apostolic activities said.
Columba Kang Wan-suk was born out of wedlock in 1761, to a noble family in Naepo, Chungcheong-do. A remarkably wise and honest child, she became the second wife of Hong Ji-yeong from the Deoksan region. Philip Hong Pil-ju, who was martyred in 1801, was her step-son.
She heard about the Catholic religion after her marriage. She realized the greatness of the Catholic faith through reading books on it. Columba Kang believed with passion and practised self-denial, winning her the admiration of many people.
She took care of Catholics prisoners during the 1791Sinhae persecution, despite being imprisoned once. She taught the catechism to her mother-in-law and her step-son, Philip Hong, and introduced them to the Church. However, she failed to convert her husband who mistreated her because of her faith. He finally left her and lived with a concubine.
After consulting with her mother-in-law and her step-son Philip Hong, Columba Kang moved to Seoul and associated with the Catholics there, who were well versed in catechism. She provided financial support to the Korean Catholics, when they started a movement to invite priests.
Columba Kang was baptized by Father James Zhou Wen-mo, who came to Korea at the end of 1794.She committed herself to helping his apostolate. Father Zhou appointed her as catechist to take care of believers.
When the Eulmyo persecution broke out in 1795, Columba Kang gave refuge to Father Zhou in her house, which was relatively safe owing to her position in the society. Her house also served as a place of gathering for the faithful everywhere.
Columba Kang was able to influence many people and introduce them to the Church because she combined knowledge with wisdom and quick wit. Among them were people from different classes of society including noble women, widows, servants and maids.
During the 1801 Shinyu persecution, Columba Kang was arrested with the other believers in her house. She withstood the severe tortures to reveal the whereabouts of Father Zhou.
Her faith in God was so firm that even the executioners were moved and they exclaimed: "This woman is not a human being, but a god."
During the three months of her imprisonment, Columba Kang never neglected her religious duties; she prepared herself for martyrdom by encouraging her companions in prison to be faithful to their belief and trust in God. She was beheaded outside the Small West Gate in Seoul with her fellow believers at the age of 40.