Saint of the Day – 7 March – Saint Siméon-François Berneux MEP (1814-1866) Bishop, Martyr, Missionary of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, Professor and Spiritual Director at the Mans seminary. Born on 14 May 1814 in Château-du-Loir, Sarthe, France and died by being tortured, blinded by having quicklime thrown in his eyes and then beheaded on 7 March 1866 on a beach beside the Han River in Sae-nam-teo, Seoul, South Korea. St Siméon-François is also venerated along with the rest of the 103 Korean Martyrs on 20 September.
Siméon-François was born to a poor and pious family. He felt a call to the Priesthood at the age ten and in 1831 at the age of seventeen, he entered the Seminary in Mans, France. Due to health problems, he had to leave the Seminary for two years, during which time he worked as a tutor. Finally he was Ordained a Diocesan Priest on 20 May 1837. Initially, Father Berneux served as a Professor and Spiritual Director at the Mans seminary which specifically trained Priests for the Missions.
In 1839 Siméon joined the Paris Foreign Missions Society and left for the Asian missions on 13 January 1840. He arrived first in Manila, Philippines before being assigned to the Tonkin region of modern Vietnam on 17 January 1841.
He began his work near a small Convent outside the town of Moi-yen, learning the Annam language. But he was barely started, when he was arrested on Holy Saturday 1841 during one of the periodic anti–Christian persecutions, Siméon and a brother Priest were dragged from place to place, ordered to renounce Christianity, ordered to convince lay people to renounce the faith and when their persecutors finally realised that the 2 Priests would not co-operate, they were sentenced to death on 8 October 1842.
However, before the sentence could be officially approved, a French official learned of their imprisonment and on 7 March 1843, had them released. Father Berneux was sent to the Chinese province of Manchuria where he continued his missionary work for the next ten years, sometimes in Singapore or Macao.
On 5 August 1854 he was chosen the fourth Vicar Apostolic of Korea by Pope Pius IX and arrived there with some fellow Missionaries in early 1856. For administrative reasons, he was also appointed Titular Bishop of Capsa and was Consecrated on 27 December 1954.
He learned Korean and then, as Bishop, spent time on the road visiting rural Christians, started a Seminary in Pae-ron, founded several schools and started a printing house that published Catholic works in Korean.
Thousands were Baptised during his time as Bishop but a palace coup in 1864 and threats of Russian invasion, led to a resurgence in anti-Western, anti–Christian nationalism and official persecution of the Church.
Bishop Berneux was arrested on 23 February 1866. He was taken to the capital and from 3 to 7 March he was repeatedly beaten and interrogated under torture until the bones in his legs were shattered. As he was dragged to his death, Bishop Siméon preached to the people who had come out to witness the execution and to remind his fellow sufferers, that they died for the glory of the Kingdom of God, imitating their Redeemer.
The deaths of Berneux and other Catholic Missionaries in Korea, was followed by a French punitive expedition which only served to reinforce the Korean policy of isolationism.
The Korean Martyrs were Canonised on 6 May 1984.
St Siméon-François relics were brought to Berlin in 2001 and are held in the Institute of St Philipp Neri in Berlin, Germany.