Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

120 Missionaries and Chinese Believers Canonized

by Unknown


One hundred and twenty missionaries and Chinese believers were canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000. This article contains a vignette of each martyr.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano


1 & 10

Publisher & Date

Vatican, October 4, 2000

From the earliest beginnings of the Chinese people (sometime about the middle of the third millennium before Christ), religious sentiment towards the Supreme Being and diligent filial piety towards ancestors were the most conspicuous features of their culture, which had existed for thousands of years.

This note of distinct religiousness is found to a greater or lesser extent in the Chinese people of all centuries up to our own time, when, under the influence of Western atheism, some intellectuals, especially those educated in foreign countries, wished to rid themselves of all religious ideas, like some of their Western teachers.

In the fifth century the Gospel was preached in China, and at the beginning of the seventh century the first church was built there. During the Tang dynasty (618-907) the Christian community flourished for two centuries. In the 13th, thanks to the understanding of the Chinese people and culture shown by missionaries like Giovanni da Montecorvino, it became possible to begin the first Catholic mission in the Middle Kingdom, with the episcopal see in Beijing.

It is not surprising, especially in the modern era (i.e., since the 16th century, when communications between the East and West became more frequent) that there was on the part of the Catholic Church a longing to take the light of the Gospel to this people in order to enhance their treasure of cultural and religious traditions, so rich and profound.

And so, beginning with the last decades of the 16th century, various Catholic missionaries were sent to China: people like Matteo Ricci and others were chosen with great care, keeping in mind their cultural abilities and their qualifications in various fields of science, especially astronomy and mathematics, in addition to their spirit of faith and love. In fact, it was thanks to this and to the missionaries' appreciation of the remarkable spirit of research shown by the studious Chinese that it was possible to establish very useful collaborative relationships in the scientific field. These relationships served in turn to open many doors, even those of the Imperial Court, and this led to the development of very useful relations with various people of great ability.

The quality of the religious life of these missionaries was such as to lead not a few people at a high level to feel the need to know better the Gospel spirit that animated them and then to be instructed in the Christian religion. This instruction was carried out in a manner suited to their cultural characteristics and way of thinking. At the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th, there were numerous people who, having undergone the necessary preparation, asked for Baptism and became fervent Christians, while always preserving with just pride their Chinese identity and culture.

Christianity was seen in that period as a reality that did not oppose the highest values of the traditions of the Chinese people, nor place itself above these traditions. Rather, it was regarded as something that enriched them with a new light and dimension.

Thanks to the excellent relations that existed between some missionaries and the Emperor K'ang Hsi himself, and thanks to the services they rendered towards re-establishing peace between the Tsar of Russia and the "Son of Heaven", namely the Emperor, the latter issued in 1692 the first decree of religious liberty by virtue of which all his subjects could follow the Christian religion and all the missionaries could preach in his vast domains.

In consequence, there were notable developments in missionary activity and the spread of the Gospel message; many Chinese people, attracted by the tight of Christ, asked to receive Baptism.

Unfortunately, however, the difficult question of "Chinese rites" greatly irritated the Emperor K'ang Hsi and prepared the persecution. This persecution, strongly influenced by the one in nearby Japan, to a greater or lesser extent, open or insidious, violent or veiled, extended in successive waves practically from the first decade of the 17th century to about the middle of the 19th. Mission-arias and lay faithful killed and many churches destroyed. It was on 15 January 1648 that the Manchu Tartars, having invaded the region of Fujian and shown themselves hostile to the Christian religion, killed St Francis Fernandez de Capillas, a priest of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). After having imprisoned and tortured him, they beheaded him while he recited with other the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary.

St. Francis Fernandez de Capillas has been recognized by the Holy See as the protomartyr of China.

Towards the middle of the following century (the 18th) another five Spanish missionaries, who had carried out their activity between 1715 and 1747, were put to death as a result of a new wave of persecution that started in 1729 and broke out again in 1746. This was in the era of the Emperor Yung-Cheng and his son, K'ien-Lung.

St Peter Sans i Jorda, O.P, Bishop, was martyred in 1747 at Fuzou.

All four of the following were killed on 28 October 1748:

St Francis Serrano Frias, O.P., priest
St Joachim Royo Perez, O.P., priest
St John Alcober Figuera, O.P., priest
St Francis Diaz del Rincon, O.P., priest.

A new period of persecution of the Christian religion occurred in the 19th century.

While Catholicism had been authorized by some emperors in the preceding centuries. Emperor Kia-Kin (1796-1821) published instead numerous and severe decrees against it. The first was issued in 1805. Two edicts of 1811 were directed against those Chinese who were studying to receive sacred Orders, and against priests who were propagating the Christian religion. A decree of 1813 exonerated voluntary apostates from every chastisement, that is, Christians who spontaneously declared that they would abandon their faith, but all others were to be dealt with harshly.

In this period the following underwent martyrdom:

St Peter Wu Guosheng, a Chinese lay catechist. Born of a pagan family, he received Baptism in 1796 and passed the rest of his life proclaiming the truth of the Christian religion. All attempts to make him apostatize were in vain. The sentence having been pronounced against him, he was strangled on 7 November 1814.

Following him in fidelity to Christ was St Joseph Zhang Dapeng, a lay catechist and merchant. Baptized in 1800, he had become the heart of the mission in the city of Kony-Yang. He was imprisoned, and then strangled to death on 12 March 1815.

In this same year (1815) there came two other decrees, by which approval was given to the conduct of the Viceroy of Sichuan who had beheaded Bishop Dufresse, of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, and some Chinese Christians. As a result, there was a worsening of the persecution.

The following martyrs belong to this period:

St. Gabriel Taurin Dufresse, M.E.P., Bishop. He was arrested on 18 May 1815, taken to Chengdu, condemned and executed on 14 September 1815.

St Augustine Zhao Rong, a Chinese diocesan priest. Having first been one of the soldiers who had escorted Bishop Dufresse from Chengdu to Beijing, he was moved by his patience and had then asked to be numbered among the neophytes. Once baptized, 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.

St Francis Mary Lantrua, O.F.M. (John of Triora), priest. Put in prison together with others in the summer of 1815, he was later condemned to death and strangled on 7 February 1816.

St Joseph Yuan Zaide, a Chinese diocesan priest. Having heard Bishop Dufresse speak of the Christian faith, he was overcome by its beauty and then became an exemplary neophyte. Later, he was ordained a priest and, as such, was dedicated to evangelization in various districts. He was arrested in August 1816, condemned to be strangled and was killed in this way on 24 June 1817.

Si Paul Liu Hanzuo, a Chinese diocesan priest, killed in 1819.

St Francis Regis Clet of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians). After obtaining permission to go to the missions in China, he embarked for the Orient in 1791. Having reached there, for 30 years he spent a life of missionary sacrifice. Upheld by an untiring zeal, he evangelized three immense provinces of the Chinese Empire: Jiang-xi, Hubei, Hunan. Betrayed by a Christian, he was arrested and thrown into prison where he underwent atrocious tortures. Following sentence by the emperor, he was killed by strangling on 17 February 1820.

St Thaddeus Liu Ruiting, a Chinese diocesan priest. He refused to apostatize, saying that he was a priest and wanted to be faithful to the religion that he had preached. Condemned to death, he was strangled on 30 November 1823.

St Peter Liu Wenyuan, a Chinese lay catechist. He was arrested in 1814 and condemned to exile in Tartary, where he remained for almost 20 years. Returning to his homeland, he was again arrested and was strangled on 17 May 1834.

St Joachim Hao Kaizhi, a Chinese lay catechist. He was baptized at the age of about 20. In the great persecution of 1814 he had been taken with many other faithful and subjected to cruel torture. Sent into exile in Tartary, he remained there for almost 20 years. Returning to his homeland, he was arrested again and refused to apostatize. Following that, and the death sentence having been confirmed by the emperor, he was strangled on 9 July 1839.

St Augustus Chapdelaine, M.E.P., a priest of the Diocese of Coutances. He entered the seminary of the Paris Foreign Missions Society and embarked for China in 1852. He arrived in Guangxi at the end of 1854. Arrested in 1856, he was tortured, condemned to death in prison and died in February 1856.

St Laurence Bai Xiaoman, a Chinese layman and unassuming worker. He joined St Chapdelaine in the refuge that was given to the missionary and was arrested with him and brought before the tribunal. Nothing could make him renounce his religious beliefs. He was beheaded on 25 February 1856.

St Agnes Cao Guiying, a widow, born into an old Christian family. Being dedicated to the instruction of young girls who had recently been converted by St Chapdelaine, she was arrested and condemned to death in prison. She was executed on 1 March 1856.

Three catechists, known as the Martyrs of MaoKou (in the province of Guizhou) were killed on 28 January 1858, by order of the Mandarin of MaoKou:

St Jerome Lu Tingmei
St Laurence Wang Bing
St Agatha Lin Zhao.

All three had been called on to renounce the Christian religion and, having refused to do so, were condemned to be beheaded.

Two seminarians and two lay people, one of whom was a farmer, the other a widow who worked as a cook in the seminary, suffered martyrdom together on 29 July 1861. They are known as the Martyrs of Qingyanzhen (Guizhou):

St Joseph Zhang Wenlan, seminarian
St Paul Chen Changpin, seminarian
St John Baptist Luo Tingying, layman
St Martha Wang Luo, lay-woman.

In the following year, on 18 and 19 February 1862, another five people gave their lives for Christ. They are known as the Martyrs of Guizhou:

St John Peter Neel, a priest of the Paris Foreign Missions Society
St Martin Wu Xuesheng, lay catechist
St John Zhang Tianshen, lay catechist
St John Chen Xianheng, lay catechist
St Lucy Yi Zhenmei, lay catechist. In the meantime, some incidents occurred in the political field that had notable repercussions on the life of the Christian missions.

In June 1840 the Imperial Commissioner of Guangdong, rightly wishing to abolish the opium trade that was being conducted by the British, had more than 20,000 chests of this drug thrown into the sea. This had been the pretext for immediate war, which was won by the British. When the war came to an end China had to sign in 1842 the first international treaty of modern times, followed quickly by others with America and France. Taking advantage of this opportunity, France replaced Portugal as the power protecting the missions. A twofold decree was subsequently issued: one part in 1844, which permitted the Chinese to follow the Catholic religion; the other in 1846, which abolished the old penalties against Catholics.

From then on the Church could live openly and carry out her missionary activity, developing it also in the sphere of higher education, in universities and scientific research.

With the multiplication of various top-level cultural institutes and thanks to their highly valued activity, ever deeper links were gradually established between the Church and China with its rich cultural traditions.

This collaboration with the Chinese authorities further increased the mutual appreciation and sharing of those true values that must underpin every civilized society.

And so passed an era of expansion in the Christian missions, with the exception of the period marked by the disaster stemming from the uprising of the "Society for Justice and Harmony" (commonly known as the "Boxer"). This occurred at the beginning of the 20th century and caused many Christians to shed their blood.

It is know that mingled in this rebellion were all the secret societies and the accumulated and repressed hatred against foreigners in the last decades of the 19th century, because of the political and social changes following the Opium War and the imposition of the so-called "unequal treaties" on the part of the Western powers.

Very different, however, was the motive for the persecution of the missionaries, even though they were of European nationality. Their slaughter was brought about solely on religious grounds. They were killed for the same reason as the Chinese faithful who had become Christians. Reliable historical documents provide evidence of the anti-Christian hatred which spurred the Boxers to massacre the missionaries and the local faithful who had adhered to their teaching. In this regard, an edict was issued on 1 July 1900 which, in substance, said that the time of good relations with European missionaries and their Christians was now past: that the former must be repatriated at once and the faithful forced to apostatize, on penalty of death.

As a result, several missionaries and many Chinese were martyred. They can be grouped together as follows:

a) Martyrs of Shanxi, killed on 9 July 1900, who were Friars Minor (Franciscans):

St Gregory Grassi, Bishop
St Francis Fogolla, Bishop
St Elias Facchini, priest
St Theodoric Balat, priest
St Andrew Bauer, religious brother;

b) Martyrs of Southern Hunan, who were also Franciscans:

St Anthony Fantosati, Bishop (martyred on 7 July 1900)
St Joseph Mary Gambaro, priest (martyred on 7 July 1900)
St Cesidio Giacomantonio, priest (martyred on 4 July 1900).

To the martyred Franciscans of the First Order were added seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, of whom three were French, two Italian, one Belgian and one Dutch:

St Mary Hermina of Jesus (in the world: Irma Grivot)
St Mary of Peace (in the world: Mary Ann Giuliani)
St Mary Clare (in the world: Clelia Nanetti)
St Mary of the Holy Birth (in the world: Joan Mary Kerguin)
St Mary of St Justus (in the world: Ann Moreau)
St Mary Adolphine (in the world: Ann Dierk)
St Mary Amandina (in the world: Paula Jeuris).

Of the martyrs belonging to the Franciscan family, there were also 11 Secular Franciscans, all Chinese:

St John Zhang Huan, seminarian
St Patrick Dong Bodi, seminarian
St John Wang Rui, seminarian
St Philip Zhang Zhihe, seminarian
St John Zhang Jingguang, seminarian
St Thomas Shen Jihe, layman and manservant.
St Simon Chen Ximan, lay catechist
St Peter Wu Anbang, layman
St Francis Zhang Rong, layman and farmer
St Matthew Feng De, layman and neophyte
St Peter Zhang Banniu, layman and labourer.

To these are joined a number of Chinese lay faithful:

St James Yan Guodong, farmer
St James Zhao Quanxin, manservant
St Peter Wang Erman, cook.

When the Boxer uprising, which had begun in Shandong and then spread through Shanxi and Hunan, also reached south-eastern Tcheli, which was then the Apostolic Vicariate of Xianxian in the care of the Jesuits, the Christians killed could be counted in the thousands.

Among these were four French Jesuit missionaries and at least 52 Chinese lay Christians: men, women and children -- the oldest of them being 79, while the youngest were aged only nine. All suffered martyrdom in July 1900. Many of them were killed in the village church of Tchou-Kia-ho, where they had taken refuge and were praying together with the first two of the missionaries listed below:

St Leo Ignatius Mangin, S.J., priest
St. Paul Denn, S.J., priest
St Remy Isore, S.J., priest
St Modest Andlauer, S.J., priest

The names and ages of the Chinese lay Christians were as follows:

St Mary Zhu nee Wu, aged about 50
St Peter Zhu Rixin, aged 19
St John Baptist Zhu Wurui, aged 17

St Mary Fu Guilin, aged 37
St Barbara Cui nee Lian, aged 51
St Joseph Ma-Taishun, aged 60
St Lucy Wang Cheng, aged 18
St Mary Fan Kun, aged 16
St Mary Chi Yu, aged 15
St Mary Zheng Xu, aged 11
St Mary Du nee Zhao, aged 51
St Magdalene Du Fengju, aged 19
St Mary Du nee Tian, aged 42
St Paul Wu Anju, aged 62
St John Baptist Wu Mantang, aged 17
St Paul Wu Wanshu, aged 16
St Raymond Li Quanzhen, aged 59
St Peter Li Quanhui, aged 63
St Peter Zhao Mingzhen, aged 61
St John Baptist Zhao Mingxi, aged 56
St Teresa Chen Jinjie, aged 25
St Rose Chen Anjie, aged 22
St Peter Wang Zuolung, aged 58
St Mary Guo nee Li, aged 65
St John Wu Wenyin, aged 50
St Zhang Huailu, aged 57
St Mark Ji Tianxiang, aged 66
St Ann An nee Xin, aged 72
St Mary An nee Guo, aged 64
St Ann An nee Jiao, aged 26
St Mary An Lirghua, aged 29
St Paul Liu Jinde, aged 79
St Joseph Wang Kuiju, aged 37
St John Wang Kuixin, aged 25
St Teresa Zhang nee He, aged 36
St Lang nee Yang, aged 29
St Paul Lang Fu, aged 9
St Elizabeth Qin nee Bian, aged 54
St Simon Qin Chunfu, aged 14
St Peter Liu Ziyn, aged 57
St Ann Wang, aged 14
St Joseph Wang Yumei, aged 68
St Lucy Wang nee Wang, aged 31
St Andrew Wang Tianqing, aged 9
St Mary Wang nee Li, aged 49
St Chi Zhuzi, aged 18
St Mary Zhao nee Guo, aged 60
St Rose Zhao, aged 22
St Mary Zhao, aged 17
St Joseph Yuan Gengyin, aged 47
St Paul Ge Tingzhu, aged 61
St Rose Fan Hui, aged 45.

The fact that this considerable number of Chinese lay faithful offered their lives for Christ together with the missionaries who had proclaimed the Gospel to them and had been so devoted to them is evidence of the depth of the link that faith in Christ establishes. It gathers into a single family people of various races and cultures, strongly uniting them not for political motives but in virtue of a religion that preaches love, brotherhood, peace and justice.

Besides all those already mentioned who were killed by the Boxers, it is necessary also to remember:

St. Alberic Crescitelli, a priest of the pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions of Milan, who carried out his ministry in southern Shanxi and was martyred on 21 July 1900.

Some years later, members of the Salesian Society of St John Bosco were added to the considerable number of martyrs recorded above:

St Louis Versiglia, Bishop
St Callistus Caravario, priest.

They were killed together on 25 February 1930 at Li-Thau-Tseul.

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