Martyrs of China

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Who were canonized on 1 October 2000, comprised Augustine Tchao (priest), Peter Tchou (layman), and Anna Wang (laywoman) as well as Francis Fernando de Capillas (Dominican priest), Gabriel Dufresse (missionary bishop), Gregory Grassi (Franciscan bishop), Leo Ignatius Mangin ( Jesuit priest) with 113 companions, who died between 1648 and 1930.

As in other similar cases, these are representative of immense numbers who gave their lives for Christ in repeated persecutions over more than 300 years. Among these were a group of Spanish Dominicans who suffered in 1748. Bishop Dufresse was beheaded in 1815 at the age of sixty-four, after some mandarins had treated him well, but the governor of Szechwan insisted on the death penalty in the presence of other Christians.

Gregory Grassi, a Franciscan from Piedmont, had been a missionary in China for 40 years before being consecrated coadjutor bishop of Shansi (1891). In 1900 a notoriously anti-Christian governor was appointed to Tai Yuan. The Protestant mission was raided, and Grassi closed his seminary to enable his students to escape. Most of them did so, but five were recaptured, imprisoned in the ‘Inn of Heavenly Peace’, and suffered martyrdom at the ages of sixteen to twenty-three. At the same time a group of nine nuns suffered the same fate. In 1899 the Boxers broke into a Protestant mission and killed its 34 inhabitants. The Catholics were taken to court and condemned to death at once. The governor Yu Tsien himself killed Bishop Grassi and his coadjutor with the sword. The nuns knelt and sung the Te Deum before having their throats cut. The governor proclaimed ‘The European religion is wicked and cruel…All Chinese Christians who do not sincerely repudiate it will be executed.’

Leo Ignatius Mangin, the Jesuit, suffered with many Chinese martyrs under the Boxers. Among them was Anna Wang, a young woman. It is important to note that the long enquiries into their causes established that they were killed for religious, not political reasons; also that the Chinese martyrs are rightly accorded the first places in the lists of martyrs which include a number of European missionaries.

These various groups of martyrs of China were beatified at different times, but those mentioned above with 113 more, were canonized together by Pope John Paul II in 2000. Feast: 17 February.

C. Cary-Elwes, China and the Cross: Studies in Missionary History (1957);A. J. O'Grady. The Dragon and the Cross (Monash 1993);Ann Ball, Modern Saints (1983);B.L.S., ii. 175–84.

Subjects: Christianity.

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