MARTYRS LEAVE CHINA HERITAGE OF FAITH
Thousands of persecuted Christians gave their lives for the Church in the massacres of 1900
The worst massacre ever experienced by the China Missions occurred in 1900: the revolt of the "Association of Justice and Harmony", known as the "Boxer Rebellion", the "Righteous and Harmonious Fists", which stained the dawn of the 20th century with blood. After breaking out in Shantung, the uprising unleashed its fury in the regions of Manchuria, Shansi, Jilin, Mongolia and Hunan. All the secret societies joined in this ferocious uprising with the accumulated and repressed xenophobia of the last decades of the 19th centurya hatred that was the result of political and social events, the aftermath of the "Opium Wars" and the enforcement of the so-called "unequal treaties" by the Western powers.
The missionaries' case was quite different, even if they were Europeans. For them an Edict was issued on 1st July that same year. They were massacred for a purely religious cause: they were killed for the same reason as the native Chinese they had converted to Christianity. Irreproachable historical documents demonstrate the anti-Christian hatred that drove the Boxers to slaughter the missionaries and the native Chinese who had accepted their doctrine. The Imperial Edict was followed by a number of decrees sanctioning persecution, issued by the Viceroy Ju-Sien.
A massacre of Catholics and Protestants, of Bishops and of missionaries followed, with the destruction of all that the Catholic Missions had gained, little by little, over about 50 years of relative peace in the shadow of the Western powers. In Shantung more than 200 mission stations were destroyed, and more than 10,000 Christians dispersed, of whom 200 shed their blood for the faith. A worse fate was in store for Shansi and Hunan where more than 30,000 Christians perished.
One thousand five hundred Servants of God of the 2,855 martyrs belonging to the Franciscan Vicariates in China, came from the North Shansi Vicariate alone.
The cause to have them all raised to the honours of the altar has already been introduced.
For 29 of them, the proceedings ended 50 years ago with their respective beatification: 26 were from Shansi and three from Hunan.
Eight of the glorious band were Friars Minor, of whom three were Bishops (Gregorio Grassi, Francesco Fogolla, Antonio Fantosati), four priests (Ella Facchini, Theodoric Balat, Giuseppe Gambaro, Cesidio Giacomantonio), one lay brother (Andre Bauer); seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (Marie Hermine de Jesus, Maria della Pace, Maria Chiara, Marie de St. Juste, Marie de Ste Nathalie, Marie Adolphine, Marie Amandine), five native Chinese seminarians, Franciscan tertiaries (John Chang, Patrick Tung, Philip Chiang, John Chiang, john Wang), proud to sacrifice their life alongside their masters and teachers, nine domestic staff, also Chinese, who, although they could have used weapons in self-defence and fled, remained beside the Fathers with whom they wanted to share the merit and glory of martyrdom (Thomas Sen, Simon Tseng, Peter Wu An-pan, Francis Chang Yuan, Matthias Fun Te, Peter Chang Pan-niu (tertiaries), James Yen Ku-tung, Peter Wang Erh-man, James Chao Ch'uan-hsin). These martyrs are the pride and glory of the Franciscan Order.
The martyrs of the Order of Friars Minor
Bl. Gregorio GrassiBishop. He was born on 13 December 1833 in Castellazzo Bormida, Alessandria, to Giovanni Battista and Paola Francesca Moccagatta. The third child of nine, he was baptized the same day and named Pierluigi. He was raised in the sound principles of religion and devotion to Our Lady. On 2 November 1848, he took the Franciscan habit in the Friary of Montiano, Romagna, and the name of Fr Gregorio and made his solemn profession the following year on 14 December. He was ordained priest on 17 August 1856. Two years later he went to the monastery of St. Bartholomew-in-the-Tiber, Rome, to prepare for the missions in China for which he set out towards the end of 1860. Bound for Shansi, he worked for several months in the Tientsin district before moving to T'ai-yuan Fu, capital of the Province, where he became mission promoter, director of the orphanage and seminary choir master.
On the death of Bishop Paolo Carnevali of Fresonara, he was appointed by Papal Brief of 28 January 1876 Coadjutor to Bishop Moccagatta, Vicar Apostolic of Shansi.
He set to work immediately, coping in particular with the most arduous and difficult Pastoral Visits, traveling from the outskirts of T'ai-yuan to distances of up to 450 km. on rough tracks, by donkey or mule, or on foot, and rebuilding a famous Marian Shrine called the "Porziuncola". Famine, hunger and the plague added to his difficulties. When he took charge of the Vicariate on the death of Bishop Moccagatta on 6 September 1891, he set up a novitiate house to offer the Chinese of the four Vicariates of Shansi the benefit of Franciscan life and the missionaries, a hospitable rest home; he enlarged the orphanages and built others.
He was assiduous in the confessional, in catechizing children and adults, in helping the poor and needy and in defending and supporting the missionaries. On the eve of his martyrdom, urged to flee and to hide, the Blessed replied: "Since I was 12, I have desired and asked God to be a martyr, and now that this longed-for moment has come, must I flee?".
Bl. Francesco FogollaCoadjutor to Bishop Grassi. He was born in Montereggio in Lunigiana in the Diocese of Pontremoli on 4 October 1839 to Gioacchino and Elisabetta Ferrari, who gave him a sound moral upbringing.
His parents moved to Parma where, in constant contact with the Friars Minor in the Church of the Annunciation, he felt called to be a Franciscan and a missionary. He received the Franciscan habit in 1858 and made his religious profession on 21 August 1859, at the age of 20.
After completing his high-school studies in Cortemaggiore, he read philosophy, first in Bologna at the monastery of the Most Holy Annunciation, then in Reggio Emilia, in Bologna and in Carpi. In Parma he was taught theology by the future Minister General, Fr Luigi Canali, and was ordained a priest on 19 September 1863. He left for the China mission on 13 December 1866, after the necessary preparation in the Roman monastery of St. Bartholomew-in-the-Tiber.
He went to T'ai-yuan in Shansi with Bishop Grassi. He had his first missionary experiences in the north of the region and then in Ki-sien and Pingyao in the south where as Vicar General, he was dedicated to visiting the Christian communities, administering the Sacraments and preaching to both Christians and non-Christians. He deepened his knowledge of the language by studying the Chinese classics, to the extent that he became the missionaries' teacher and aroused the admiration of the Chinese.
He eradicated abuse and sought painstakingly to improve the standard of education and customs, he increased the number of Christians and actively defended his flock from pagan harassment to the point of gaining credence with the civil courts and the Christians' esteem and affection.
Because of his skill in the Chinese language he was called by Bishop Moccagatta to be official preacher at the two Chinese Synods in 1880 and 1885.
He was recalled to T'ai-yuan because of serious and recurrent bouts of protracted illness, so that for a few years there was fear for his life. Having recovered his health in Tientsin he was named Vicar General by Bishop Grassi and thanks to his energetic action, succeeded in obtaining from the Mandarins permission for Christians to qualify for the arts degree.
In 1897, together with four Chinese seminarians, he took part in the International Exhibition of Turin. This proved a propitious opportunity for them to present the needs of the mission to the Holy See and to the Order. Everywhere they were received with enthusiasm, in Bologna, in his hometown, by his confreres. In recognition of his valuable contribution, he received a Diploma of Merit from the Exhibition Committee and a Diploma of Honour for the Shansi Mission. In Paris he received news of his appointment as Coadjutor to Bishop Grassi and he was consecrated there on 24 August 1898. He traveled through France, Belgium and England, seeking help and raising funds. He returned to China on 12 March 1899 with a group of nine young missionaries and seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (two Belgians, three French and two Italians).
While he was preparing for the work of his new Office, he was caught in the storm of 1900 with the arrival in Shansi of the bloodthirsty Governor Ju-sien. He wrote to his brother who persistently invited him to return to Italy: "I want to die, my weapons in my hand, fighting against hell to be nearer, when I fly from it, to heaven". And he deserved the palm of martyrdom.
Bl. Elia Facchinipriest. He was born on 2 July 1839 in Reno Centese in the Province of Ferrara, but in the Archdiocese of Bologna. He was the third and last child of Francesco and Marianna Guaraldi. In character he was somewhat similar to the prophet, his namesake: brusque but strong and incapable of compromise.
His answer to the tyrants of T'ai-yuan is famous: "My faith is of steel: it breaks but it does not bend". While still young he asked to be admitted among the sons of St. Francis, spending the period of his novitiate in the Le Grazie Friary, Rimini, where in solitude and silence he laid the foundations for the lofty morality which led him to martyrdom.
He made his religious profession on 1 November 1859. On 18 December 1864 he was ordained a priest.
When religious institutes were suppressed, in 1866 he asked and was granted permission to leave for the mission in China. He prepared for it at the monastery of St. Bartholomew-in-the-Tiber, Rome. In April 1868 he arrived in T'ai-yuan where he was overjoyed to meet his former study companion, Fr Fogolla, and replaced him in missionary work near the Great Wall. He was soon called to direct the native Chinese seminary in T'ai-yuan where he taught literature and theology and compiled a large Latin-Chinese dictionary and a philosophical and theological compendium. He was an author, a theologian and Bishop Moccagatta's secretary.
He participated in the two Regional Synods of the Vicariate, in 1880 and 1885, and in the Third Synod of Shensi.
In 1893, he was made Superior and Novice Master in the Friary of Tun-el-Koun built by Bishop Grassi. He was shortly recalled to his young people in T'ai-yuan at the beginning of 1900, when he foresaw his imminent martyrdom, "if they kill me", he would say, "I will get to Heaven all the sooner. My body is already worn out. I will thank the Lord if I have to die for the faith". These were his last words.
Bl. Theodoric Balatpriest. He was born on 23 October 1858 in St. Martin de Tours in the Diocese of Albi and consequently his confreres in the mission used to call him "the good Albigensian".
When he was 11 he entered Lavour minor seminary where his remarkable docility, diligence and moral conduct were noted and he joined the Franciscan Third Order. He then moved to the major seminary in Albi where, following the visit of a Franciscan father who spoke about the missions, he was clothed as a Franciscan in the novitiate of the Minorite Province of St. Louis in Pon on 29 June 1880, taking the name of Theodoric. He made his simple profession on 30 June 1881 in Woodlands, England, and his solemn vows on 2 July 1884.
Theodoric arrived in China in October that same year. His missionary travels have a romantic flavour and his zeal and uncommon devotion were crowned with great success. A model missionary, he converted many Chinese to the faith. Bishop Grassi called him to assume the delicate roles of teacher in the minor seminary, Novice Master, promoter of the missions and chaplain to the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary and to the orphanage. He was working in this capacity when the persecutions broke out. Advised to flee, he courageously replied: "My duty is to remain".
This great self-control did not abandon him even in prison. When the tyrant Ju-sien arrived with his soldiers, he was calmly saying his Breviary. He stood up, blessed the white rows of women religious and courageously accompanied them to their death, sharing the palm of martyrdom with them.
Bl. Andre Bauerlay brother. He was born on 24 November 1866, in Guebwiller in the Province of Alsace, to Luca and Lucia Moser. When he was already in his late teens he joined the Franciscan Third Order and on 12 August 1886, at the age of 20, he became an Oblate in England where he had moved in obedience to his country's military laws. Recalled to Paris, he faithfully served his fatherland for three years in the Regiment of the Cuirassiers, which he had chosen.
At the end of his military service, he returned to the friary where he was professed as a lay brother. From the start he was attracted to the missions an aspiration he was able to satisfy by joining Bishop Fogolla's expedition, and he arrived in T'ai-yuan on 4 May 1899. Bishop Grassi entrusted him with managing the lay personnel of the house and surgery as well as with the services to the friars. Here he awaited unperturbed the storm of 1900 and, with it, won the longed for palm of martyrdom. "We are at the dawn of the new century", he wrote to his brother. "I do not know what is in store for us. Oh! If only I too, like the good thief, could reach Paradise!". When, a few months later, a soldier asked him for his hands to handcuff them, Andre knelt before him, kissed the chains and, singing, advanced to the place of his death.
The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary
To the First Order of Franciscan Martyrs should be added seven heroines of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary led by Bishop Fogolla on 4 May 1899: three FrenchSr. Marie Hermine de Jesus, Sr. Marie de Ste Nathalie, Sr. Marie de St. Juste; two ItalianSr. Maria della Pace, Sr. Maria Chiara, two BelgianSr. Marie Adolphine, Sr. Marie Amandine. The sisters were joyfully welcomed in T'ai-yuan by 200 orphans in the St. Paschal Home, while they awaited the construction of the hospital they would manage. Meanwhile a small dispensary was opened to which Christians and non-Christians flocked in ever-increasing crowds, finding there medicine for body and soul. The little girls of the Holy Infancy were also entrusted to the sisters' care.
Bl. Hermine de Jesus, born on 28 April 1866, was the Superior of the group. Endowed with rare intelligence together with a strong character, she had brilliantly pursued her studies and obtained a teaching diploma. After her consecration in the Institute of Mother Mary of the Passion in September 1896, she became such a constant example of perfection that Bishop Fogolla was surprised by the young nun's precocious gravity and uncommon prudence. Invited to leave the battle field with her companions at the time of their trial, Hermine strongly protested that she had come to shed her blood for Jesus Christ and desired to follow the Bishops and Missionaries to prison and the place of death. She was the first martyr of her institute, and died at the age of 34.
Bl. Maria della Paceher assistant, is the youngest of the protomartyrs, born in Bolsena on 13 December 1875. She joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary on 6 June 1892. In France, Austria and Italy, everywhere she left the fragrance of her virtues. Of the seven, God reserved hours of painful agony for the young woman. Eminently musical, at the appearance of the executioners, Maria della Pace began to sing the triumphal hymn of the "Te Deum" which the seven continued to sing until the moment of their martyrdom.
Bl. Maria Chiarain the world, Clelia Manetti, was born in 1872 to devout parents in S. Maria Maddalena on the Venetian bank of the River Po in the Diocese of Adria-Rovigo. After some resistance overcome by grace, when she was 18, she joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Rome being admitted by the foundress, Mother Mary of the Passion. She received the habit on 10 April 1892 from the hands of the Minister General, Fr Luigi da Parma, who called her Chiara, in memory of St. Francis' first spiritual daughter. She made simple vows on 3 February 1896 and her perpetual profession on 13 November 1898. Of an ardent and contemplative nature, her favourite motto was: "Hands at work, heart on high". In China too, she honoured her programme of life. She prepared for martyrdom with a life of recollection, work and intense devotion. To a sister who confided to her her love for the lepers, Maria Chiara replied: "I would prefer to go to China and be killed for Jesus". She headed the group of sisters as they went to their death and was the first to be beheaded.
Bl. Marie de Ste NathalieShe was born in Brittany on 5 May 1864 and spent her childhood and youth at home and in the fields and woods, grazing her flock At the age of 24, on 27 May 1887, she became a Franciscan Missionary of Mary. She liked to call herself "St. Francis' little donkey". She was put to the test by illness, first in Africa, in Carthage, and then in China: spending long months in a bed of pain! "I am glad to be in China because I feel that I am carrying out my vocation", she wrote to the foundress, "and I want to win many souls for God". She is the oldest of the group but also the simplest and most humble. Her tireless work carried out in the supernatural atmosphere of Franciscan joy and physical suffering are the two characteristics of this soul.
Bl. Marie de St. JusteShe was born in Rouen in the lower Loire on 9 April 1866. Devout, charitable and attentive in church and at catechism, she used her savings to provide clothes for poor children, especially those preparing for First Communion. Her missionary vocation was born from reading the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith. "To go to China, to do something great and finally give my life for the poor Chinese ... This is my dream!".
She received the habit of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary on 24 October 1890. God chose her to experience what the saints call "the dark night of the soul". "My whole life has only been a web of inner suffering". In Europe and in China Sr. Marie de St. Juste was a true model, being industrious and devout. "This indefatigable fighter", Mother Hermine commented, "had to fight and die as a true soldier of Christ".
Bl. Marie AdolphineShe was born in Ossendrecht, Holland, on 8 March 1866, to poor but honest labourers. She attended the school of the Franciscan Sisters of Ossendrecht and was conspicuous for her obedience and the delicacy of her sentiments.
On 19 March 1892, in answer to the divine call she joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Antwerp. "Her life", a sister writes, "betrayed nothing extraordinary on the outside, but it was truly exemplary: always the first at work, loving and reserving the hardest chores for herself". The long year she spent in China was also sanctified by full observance of the Rule, in obedience, in working hard from morning to evening and often also, in the silent hours of the night, serving everyone. She had always desired and requested martyrdom. "If I am lucky enough to be a martyr", she said one day to her companions, "I will come, I will visit all the rooms and give everyone a piece of my palm". She was able to make a bold stand and affirm her faith before the tyrant.
Bl. Marie AmandineThe last of the protomartyrs of T'ai-yuan comes from a family of predestined souls: she had three consecrated sisters in the Institute of Mary of the Passion and four cousins who were Franciscan missionary brothers in China. Amandine was born in the thriving Flemish village of Schakebroek on 28 December 1872. She was 15 when she joined the Franciscan Third Order. She entered the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Antwerp on 16 July 1895 and five months later received the habit and the name of Sr. Marie Amandine of the Sacred Heart. She made her first vows in Marseilles on 6 June 1898 and tended the sick in the nearby surgical ward. When the mother foundress gave her the order to leave for the missions she expressed her joy with a song.
In China she was put in charge of the dispensary to which the sick flocked and where they always found the sister smiling and ready to give them a kind word with their medicine. The Chinese called her "The European virgin who always laughs", because of her imperturbable serenity. Even as she went to her martyrdom, she was to sing as she had done on the day of her profession. When she was beheaded, Amandine was not yet 28 years old.
The five seminarians killed in T'ai-yuan
John Changis the first of the group. He entered the minor seminary at 11 years of age, first in Ko-lao-kou and then in T'ai-yuan under Fr Facchini's training. He began to study theology, progressed in piety and became a Franciscan tertiary. He was lively and an example to everyone. At the age of 23 he was ready for heaven, the first of the seminarians.
Patrick TungHe was admitted to the Seminary at the age of 12. Having finished high school, he began his philosophical and theological studies at T'ai-yuan. Fr Fogolla rewarded the goodness of his altar boy by taking him to Italy as traveling companion, for the International Exhibition of Turin in 1898. He traveled with him through France, Belgium and England, always leaving the impression of a pure and privileged soul. A fervent tertiary, at the age of 18 he was preparing to enter the Chinese Novitiate in Tong-el-Kou, when, caught unawares by the storm of persecutions, he fearlessly offered his head to the executioner.
Philip Chiangis the third of the seminarian martyrs. He also heard the call to the priesthood when he was a boy. He was admired and beloved by his teachers and companions who always saw him as a good and loving seminarian.
John Chiangthe fourth of the little band, was 22 years old when he had the fortune to shed his blood for Jesus Christ. Fr Elia Facchini, who admired his good nature and uncommon virtue, admitted him to the Franciscan Third Order.
John Wangwas the youngest seminarian of the lucky group. Due to his spontaneous goodness and gentle nature, he was the favourite of the seminary. Also a member of the Franciscan Third Order, he was with Patrick at the Exhibition of Turin. He became the idol of the visitors that flocked to his stand. All five, who continued their recreation in the courtyard before the massacre, were an example of serenity and strength.
The nine lay martyrs of T'ai-yuan
The indigenous seminarians were joined in martyrdom by the nine native catechists, humble servants of the seminary, the orphanage and the Fathers of T'ai-yuan. Belonging to a humble and unimportant class, they do not have a long story to tell. Their last act is what made them immortal: shedding their blood for their faith in Jesus Christ.
The first is Thomas SenHe was clothed as a Franciscan tertiary by Bishop Fogolla. He lived with Bishop Grassi for 10 years and like him was a true model of fidelity and obedience, based on reverence and love. The Bishop and his servant understood each other perfectly and walked side by side to their martyrdom.
Simon TsengHe was also the son of fervent, traditional Christians. He had felt a call to the priesthood but had to abandon it because of an illness believed to be incurable. A Franciscan tertiary, for 30 years he was Bishop Fogolla's faithful servant. He fulfilled his office as catechist and chose to remain celibate to give the Lord his total service. Bishop Fogolla wanted him to go with him on his journey to Italy where he was remembered with veneration. And he did not forsake him in martyrdom.
Peter WuHe too aspired to the priesthood in his youth. He was a Franciscan tertiary and seminarian. But as this was not his vocation, he abandoned the habit although he remained celibate all his life. Bishop Grassi enrolled him in a learned teacher's school with the intention of making him an arts' graduate so as to facilitate diplomatic relations between the civil authorities and the Church. He proved to be a reasonable poet and wrote a small handbook of prayers.
He was arrested at the city gates as he was bringing aid to the missionaries and, his hands tied behind his back, he was suspended from a beam where he remained until evening.
Once he had been freed, he continued on the path of the Church. Drawing still closer to the Bishops and missionaries, he was content to face martyrdom with them at the age of 40.
Francis ChangA modest farmer, he was taken up with working in the fields and the care of his numerous family which had a long Christian tradition. His. wonderful frankness and simplicity endeared him to all. For 10 years he served the mission as doorkeeper of the orphanage. A fervent tertiary with a devotion to Our Lady, he would spend his free time praying and reciting the Rosary. He followed the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary to prison, considering himself fortunate to suffer martyrdom with them.
Matthias Fun TeA fervent neophite, he was in charge of guarding the Bishop's residence. After his Baptism he become a tertiary. Martyrdom came unexpectedly when he was 45 years old.
James YenA man of extraordinary simplicity, he belonged to the humble class of poor farmers and hired labourers. For this reason the doors of the Mission were open to him and his coveted job was to prepare vegetables for the table of the missionaries, the sisters, the seminary and the little girls of the Holy Infancy child-care institution. In his last year he was undercook: the fraternal agape on 9 July 1900 was the last meal James served. Three hours later he received the palm of martyrdom, at the age of 45.
Peter ChangHe is the seventh of the nine. He was not regularly employed by the House but often came for special jobs which he did with religious zeal. With the approach of the persecution, seeing some companions leave in fear, he desired to replace them and faced martyrdom with the Bishops when he was 51.
Peter WangSecond last of the happy group, as a small child he was taken in and educated by the orphanage of Ko-lao-Kou. The Cause states that he was very good and observed the Commandments. He was in the service of the Chinese priest, Peter Su, and later employed in the kitchen of the seminary in T'ai-yuan. When the
seminary was closed, the orphans scattered, the Bishops and missionaries imprisoned he too gave his life for Jesus Christ at the age of 30.
James Chaoworthily ends the list of companions. "A good and upright man, he had a poor, hard-working life, but was endowed with natural virtues". He was a temporary servant, but from the day that the Bishops were led to prison, he wished to be their companion. As he used to go home every evening, on the eve of 9 July he told his sad and tearful mother and wife that the next day he would not be coming home since the Bishops missionaries and sisters were to be killed and he wanted to be among them. He spent the night in prayer and in the morning, as usual, he went to the prison. Led before the court, some soldiers, former colleagues, in an effort to save him, told those who had bound him that he was not a Christian. But James protested, confessed that he was Christian and was killed.
All the prisoners were brought out in single file, first Bishop Grassi and Bishop Fogolla, then the priests, the sisters, the seminarians and the domestic staff, accompanied by a line of soldiers who gripped their arms for fear they would escape. Bishop Grassi said: "Let go of us, we will follow you without resisting". Hastening from the prison, they were taken to the court of the Viceroy, amidst the jeers of the soldiers and the clamour of shouting and curses from the throngs of Boxers along the way. In the court, Ju-sien sat in judgement. He made all the victims kneel in a long line and began the trial by interrogating Bishop Fogolla first.
How long have you been in China, and how many people have you damaged (by making them Christians)?
We have been in China for many years, but we have never harmed anyone, indeed we have benefited many.
And what medicine do you give people to make them Christian, so that even boys are so tenacious and stubborn that they do not want to give up your religion? ... Be quick and give me or tell me the antidote to reverse the effect of that medicine, so that the Christians can give up your religion and cease from such obstinacy.
We do not give any medicine to make people Christian, and they are completely free; only they clearly know their duty not to deny their faith because they are convinced that this is evil and that it is a sin not to worship the God of heaven.
Ju-sien, trembling, hit the Bishop twice with his fist, then shouted: "Kill them, kill them!".
The soldiers stormed in immediately and brutally dragged the victims out in front of the Viceroy's court; they drew blood with their swords and savagely carried out the executions, with more or less cruelty depending on their skill, the sharpness of their weapons, and the hatred that motivated them. Bishop Grassi and Bishop Fogolla were the first to fall, then the missionaries, the seminarians and the domestic staff. While they were carrying out their butchery, the sisters braced themselves awaiting their turn. Having removed their veils, they covered their faces, leaving their necks bare for the executioners to sever them. In the meantime Sr. Maria della Pace started to chant the <Te Deum>, the others continued, until they were beheaded. At the end, the Boxers. fearing vengeance, fired their guns into the air to put any spirits to flight.
While the massacre was taking place, a blood-red globe was seen from the distant city of Tsetinfu200 km. awayin the direction of T'ai-yuan, emitting several flashes of light which changed continuously into balls of fire.
The Franciscan martyrs of Southern Hunan
The revolution in Shantung, where the Boxers had been victorious over the Europeans, flared up in Hunan on 4 July 1900 with acts of vandalism and the destruction of houses, the church and orphanage of Hengchow, to the cry of "Death to the Europeans!".
From here it spread rapidly to all the Vicariate's other Christian communities and in a short time everything was sacked, burnt and destroyed: churches, homes and institutions. Christian families were also plundered, while the Mandarins redoubled their decrees against the faith. Some of the native clergy fled in disguise, while others went into hiding and yet others faced death.
When Bishop Fantosati, who had been absent on a Pastoral Visit, heard the dreadful news, raising his eyes to heaven, he exclaimed: "Non rostra, sed tua voluntas", adding the Chinese proverb: "For them, it was breakfast, for us supper!".
Bl. Antonio FantosatiBishop. He was born in S. Maria in Valle, near Trevi, Umbria, on 16 October 1842, to Domenico and Maria Bompadre, and belonged to the Franciscan Province of Assisi. He had been baptized Antonino. His parents entrusted him to the discipline of the Friars Minor in the nearby friary and, shortly afterwards, offered him to God in the clerical state. He was a novice at the friary in Spineta and a student at Cerreto di Spoleto. "He was a model of goodness and doctrine for the others". With the occupation of Umbrie in 1860 by the Piedmontese troops and those of Garibaldi, he took refuge in the Papal State continuing his studies in Celleno, Orano, Rome and Carpineto where he was ordained, assisted by his godfather, Count Giuseppe Battista Pecci, brother of Leo XIII.
In October 1867 he left Rome together with a small group of companions, including Fr Elia Facchini, for the mission in China. "His adoptive Trevi" was the Upper Hupeh. He was a great and ingenious missionary. He had a wide following in the faith throughout the territory and founded a veritable network of Christian centres. It was he who built the majestic and beautiful cathedrals in Lao-ho-Kow and Cia-yuen-Kou. He was Procurator, Vicar General and Apostolic Administrator. After 20 years of assiduous and fruitful apostolate, in 1892 he was elected Vicar Apostolic of Southern Hunan. He had won such affection that on his departure from Hupeh more than 300 people blocked his way. He had to promise that he would return in order to continue on his way, preceded by the fame of his success. He found Hunan, an extremely xenophobic area, a land of struggle and sorrow, because of the authorities' systematic opposition and the people's indifference.
He foresaw the approaching storm and prepared for it courageously. Away from his customary residence on a Pastoral Visit with his inseparable traveling companion, Fr Giuseppe Gambaro, he hastened with him to return by boat to Hengchow on the morning of the 6th together with some Christians. implored by the latter not to return to the city, he replied that his duty called him to defend his children: "If we have to die, we will die together". Near the city he learned with dismay of the death of Fr Cesidio Giacomantonio, burned alive, and of the destruction of the Church and orphanage.
While they were disembarking, the ship bearing the Bishop and Fr. Gambaro was attacked by a fleet of fishing boats. Unable to pay the helmsman, he took off his Pastoral ring and presented it to him. From the bank the Bishop tried to calm the crowd, but a blow on the head with the rudder floored him. A shower of stones and blows from sticks rained down on him, as he repeated the names of Jesus and Mary. He no longer showed any sign of life, when a pagan, grasping a bamboo stick reinforced with metal spikes, stuck it into his body. The martyr writhed in agony and barely managed to extract it with his hand. But then pierced through once more, the Servant of God gave up his life after two long hours of agony. He was 58 years old.
Bl. Giuseppe Gambaropriest. He was born on 7 August 1869 in Galliate, Province of Novara, to Pacifico and Francesca Bozzolo who named him Bernardo and gave him a moral upbringing. Following a retreat and after overcoming many difficulties, he was received into the Seraphic College of Monte Mesma in the Turin Province of San Diego. On 27 September 1886 he entered the novitiate taking the name of Giuseppe Maria, and completed his high school studies at the Friary of S. Maria delle Grazie, Voghera. Of a lively and resourceful disposition, he was ready to carry out whatever obedience demanded of him.
He arrived in China in March 1896. He was made responsible for the religious formation and study programme of the candidates in the local seminary. He then moved on to supervise the Christian community of Yenchow where everyone welcomed him with enthusiasm.
He suffered the same fate as Bishop Fantosati, whose special esteem and affection he enjoyed. His body too, was showered with stones and blows from sticks that brought him, dying, to the ground, as, together with the Bishop, he murmured the names of Jesus and Mary.
On coming to himself, he made the sign of the Cross, bringing his hand to his left shoulder. Then, catching sight of the Bishop close by groping about in a pool of blood, with a supreme effort he dragged himself over and hugged him in a sweet embrace, whispering some incomprehensible words to him: he died while the Bishop was raising his hand to bless him. His martyrdom had lasted 20 minutes.
Bl. Cesidio Giacomantoniopriest. He was born in Fossa Aquilana, on 30 August 1873, and was baptized the same day with the name Angelo. His religious vocation was the result of frequent visits to the monastery of S. Angelo in Ocre, little more than one kilometre from Fossa. He did his novitiate there and took the name of Cesidio, the martyr of Marsica. He had the honour of being the first martyr of the International College of St. Anthony in Rome, where he completed his missionary training. "Friendly to everyone, gracious in manner and with a ready smile always on his lips". In addition to these natural gifts, grace had showered supernatural virtues upon him, including deep love for God and for Our Lady, a prayerful spirit, filial devotion to God's will, the desire to convert souls and for peace in the family, and a fervent longing for martyrdom. He fell prey to the persecution in Hengchow on 4 July, after a year of apostolic activity in China. In the midst of the tumultuous crowd that had invaded the residence and oblivious to his own danger, Cesidio, fearing the Sacred Species would be profaned, hastened to the chapel in order to consume them. The frenzied crowds mortally wounded him with blows from lances and sticks and while still breathing, they wrapped him, half-dead, in a blanket soaked in petrol and set fire to him. He was not yet 27 years old.
The remains of the martyrs of Shansi, after being mocked by the Boxers, the soldiers and the mob until the late evening, were flung into a common pit by the city walls, near the Eastern Gate.
As for the martyrs of Hunan, their bodies were cremated and their ashes scattered to the winds and the river.
When the former were exhumed, it is said that the earth was covered with a white blanket of snow, so that the Viceroy, impressed by such a sight, announced: "These foreigners were really good people, heaven itself is taking part in their funeral".
The Government erected expiatory monuments on the site of their martyrdom and above the pit where their remains had lain. Pope Pius XII beatified them on 24 November 1946.
With the universal Church, with John Paul II who, on Holy Saturday 1996, expressed special concern about the Chinese people, the Franciscan Order looks to this great nation with the most fervent hope, waiting to reap the inheritance of the religious who, sacrificing their life, spread the Gospel there and built up and sanctified the Church, founded there 700 years ago by John of Monte Corvino.
Taken from the August 28, 1996 issue of "L'Osservatore Romano". Editorial and Management Offices, Via del pellegrino, 00120, Vatican City, Europe, Telephone 39/6/698.99.390.