Feast Day: July 09.
Christianity arrived in China by way of Syria in the 600’s. Depending on China’s relations with the outside world. Christianity over the centuries was free to grow or was forced to operate secretly.
120 martyrs remembered on this day were killed during various periods of persecution in China between the beginning of the Manchu (Qing) dynasty in the mid-17th century and 1930. Most of them (87) were born in China and were children, parents, catechists or laborers, ranging from nine years of age to 72. This group includes four Chinese diocesan priests. The 33 foreign-born martyrs were mostly priests or women religious, especially from the Order of Preachers, the Paris Foreign Mission Society, the Friars Minor, Jesuits, Salesians, and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.
The Christian persecutions before the Boxer Rebellion (an inti-imperialist uprising which took place in China) were largely the result of imperial edicts, which normally granted clemency if the accused apostatized, but few agreed to do so. Some were simply ferocious attacks on Christians during recurrent periods of Sino-Western tension.
Augustine Zhao Rong was a Chinese soldier who accompanied Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse (Parish Foreign Mission Society) on the way to his martyrdom in Beijing. Augustine became so impressed by the bishop’s saintliness that he asked to be baptized. He went on to continue missionary work, but was arrested in Chengdu in central China, and starved to death in prison in 1815. Beatified in groups at various times, these 120 martyrs were canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II in Rome on October 1, 2000.
The People’s Republic of China and the Roman Catholic Church each have well over a billion members. There are over 12 million Catholics in China. The reason why there are not more are better explained by historical conflicts than by a wholesale rejection of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Chinese-born martyrs honored by today’s feast were regarded by their persecutors as dangerous because they were considered allies of enemy Catholic countries. The martyrs born outside China often tried to distance themselves from European political struggles relating to China, but their persecutors saw them as Westerners and therefore, by definition, anti-Chinese. The Good News of Jesus Christ is intended to benefit all peoples; these martyrs knew that. 21st-century Christians try to live in such a way that Chinese women and men will be attracted to hear that Good News and embrace it.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day-Updated and Expanded.” Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar-Updated and Revised Edition.” New York: Alba House, 2012.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons