Vox Parva: Hopeful invocation of the Feast of the Chinese Martyrs
The church sets July 9 as the Feast of the Holy Martyrs and Blessed of China, or in shorter terms, the Feast of the Chinese Martyrs. It is a relatively new feast that commemorates when Saint John Paul II canonized 120 Chinese martyrs from the second millennium as Saints. I remember, on October 1, the ceremony was immersed in heavy rain, yet filled with solemnity by the Pope’s profound and wishful invocation to both named and unnamed faithful dating from around 1648 to 1930.
Martyrs are those who are killed because of their religious beliefs. They shed their blood to defend and witness the truth, value and faith. These values are not limited to, but usually include, human dignity, the meaning of life, peaceful intention, and so forth. In fact, Tertullian, father of “Latin Christianity” during an early church period, describes the nature of martyrdom as “the blood of the martyrs is seed” (Apologeticum 50, 12). So Christians are not only baptized by water to become the seed of the church, but by blood as well.
Unfortunately, the hopeful prayer became a taboo topic for China, as the Central government considered the canonization as a promotion of colonialism. Some martyrs, for example, St. Auguste Chapdelaine, MEP, were drawn into a religious cause, which led to the Second Opium War. In that period of time, the Church benefited from, but was also a victim of, colonialism, and it is not my intention to comment on ideas related to patriotism in these few paragraphs, as the reasons are far beyond this.
After the canonization ceremony, the Holy Father immediately responded on the following day in hope of easing the situation. He emphasized the glories of these martyrs, who are truly “the noble people of China” because of their “heroic fidelity to Christ and the greatness of their souls.” He tried to neutralize this issue by expressing the proper motive of the Church in the following sentences: “You all know that the majority of the 120 Martyrs shed their blood in historical periods which rightly have a special meaning for your people. In reality, they were tragic situations marked by violent social disturbances.
With yesterday’s canonization, the Church certainly does not wish to make a historical judgment on those periods, much less to justify certain actions taken by governments of the time, which weighed heavily on the history of the Chinese people. She wishes, instead, to highlight the heroic fidelity of these worthy children of China, who did not let themselves be intimidated by the threats of a ferocious persecution.”
The Holy Father added, “Some people, through a partial and non-objective reading of history, see only limitations and errors in their missionary activity. If there– is any man ever free of faults, – we ask forgiveness.” Everyone has faults, and what we have to do, as Pope Francis also teaches us many times, is practice forgiveness.
St. John Paul II’s genuine invocation is to demonstrate and follow the true way for the Church: “A way interwoven with profound and respectful intercultural dialogue, as Fr Matteo Ricci wisely and skilfully taught; a way consisting in the daily offering of one’s life.”
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