Today the Church honours 120 martyrs of China who died for the faith in persecutions between 1648 and 1930 . Pope John Paul II canonized them on 1 October 2000. St Augustine Zhao Rong, whose name heads the group, was a diocesan priest who had been a soldier. The brief biographical note at the canonization reads: Blessed Augustine Zhao Rong, a Chinese diocesan priest. Having first been one of the soldiers who had escorted Monsignor Dufresse from Chengdu to Beijing, he was moved by his patience and had then asked to be numbered among the neophytes. Once baptised, he was sent to the seminary and then ordained a priest. Arrested, he had to suffer the most cruel tortures and then died in 1815.
Among those martyred in July 1900 during the ‘Boxer’ Uprising was St Anna Wang, 14. Her father and stepmother both apostatized, though Anna had pleaded with them not to. The ‘Boxers’ tried everything possible to dissuade Anna but in the end they beheaded her. Fr Francis X. Clark SJ in his book Asian Saints says that ‘witnesses reported that, even after her head had fallen, she kept in the same kneeling position until one of the guards pushed her to the floor’. Anna’s stepmother repented and became a fervent Catholic.
I came across a homily given by Deacon Greg Kandra of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, on this feast last year. It’s on his blog, The Deacon’s Bench. He highlights the fact that these 120 persons were individuals, 87 of them Chinese, 33 European missionaries. He drew the attention of the congregation to a number by U2, Where the Streets Have No Name at a Super Bowl in New Orleans on February 3 2002, a few months after the September 11 killings in the USA. The names of the victims were highlighted.
On 11 May this year at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem Pope Benedict focused on the fact that every victim of the Holocaust had a name.
The phenomenon of martyrs down through the ages since the time of St Stephen is, for me, one of the greatest proofs that Jesus the Risen Lord is with his people. And when you read about the witness of St Anna Wang you see how we often despise the young people of today by expecting so little from them and encouraging them to turn away from any kind of sacrifice in their lives, from following Jesus.
Please pray for the Catholics of China who are still going through a very difficult time, in some areas more than in others. And pray that the efforts of Pope John Paul II and of Pope Benedict XVI to reach out to the Chinese authorities will bear fruit.