The Martyr Saints of China

July 9th is the feast day of the Chinese Martyrs.

It was October 2000 when Saint Pope John Paul II canonized 120 martyrs in China. As Alejandro Bermudez noted in his recent piece, “87 were Chinese laypeople and 33 were missionaries.”

Bermudez says, “The feast is an occasion for the Chinese Catholic diaspora, and for the Universal Catholic church as a whole, to pray for Christians currently persecuted in Communist China, especially those Catholics who despite being a minority in Hong Kong, constitute the backbone of the freedom movement and are currently being jailed such as Catholic convert Jimmy Lai, owner of the pro-democracy paper Apple News; or those forced to exile, like pro-democracy Catholic leader Joseph Cheng.”

In his homily, John Paul II said the, “martyrs are an example of courage and consistency to us all, and that they honour the noble Chinese people.”

The stories of these modern martyrs are captivating and it is important for them to become accessible and familiar so to bolster the faith and tenacity of Christians and people of good will worldwide.

Making contact with their stories can sometimes be difficult. One of the reasons is because many of their graves are in China which, John Paul II thinks, is fitting.

“Their tombs are there as if to signify their definitive belonging to China, which they deeply loved, although with their human limitations, and for which they spent all their energies,” he said in his homily.

The photo above is of a painting by Chinese artist Yin Xin. It depicts one of the Chinese martyrs named Saint Paul Tchen, and I saw it in a side chapel of Notre-Dame de Paris.

I am not sure whether this painting is still in tact following the fire at the cathedral, but this side chapel of the Holy Childhood became for me an important point of initial contact with the stories of the Chinese martyrs.

Another point of contact has been Gerolamo Fazzini’s book, Diaries of the Chinese Martyrs: Stories of Heroic Catholics Living in Mao’s China. Another book I’d love to read, but haven’t gotten a copy of yet is The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive World History by Robert Royal.

The continual witness of martyrs in every generation bear witness to the Exodus paradox: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.” (Exodus 1:12)

Meditation on the truthfulness of this Exodus paradox can be a key antidote to despair and discouragement.

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