Saturday, July 9, 2016

Memorial of Augustine Zhao-rong and Companions

Today is the memorial of St. Augustine Zhao-rong and one hundred nineteen companion martyrs of China who were slaughtered from 1648 to 1930. These first saints of China were beatified at various times over the years.  John Paul II canonized them as a group on 1 October 2000.  The canonization infuriated the government controlled Patriotic Association. Eighty-seven were native Chinese ranging in age from toddlers to the elderly.  The rest were foreign missionaries, both men and women, from several orders.  The missionaries included four Jesuits. 

Augustine Zhao-rong was martyred in 1815.  He had been one of the soldiers
escorting Msgr. Dufresse of the MEP to Beijing to his own martyrdom.  Augustine was impressed with the monsignor's witness and asked to be received into the church.  He was sent to seminary and ordained prior to his own death.  Some of the martyrs were barely teenagers who held to their faith to the point of death despite the choice to apostasize. 

We need to know their stories.  The numbers and time, one hundred twenty dying over three centuries, softens the impact.  Only the individual stories make the martyrs real.  That reality is painful.  The reality of martyrdom, the reality of death through the intention of another, is even more painful when we can identify with those who died.  Even those who were martyred in modern times. 

I did my undergrad at Penn State from '68 to '71.  The 9/11 terrorists murdered ten of our alumni, men and women who walked the same routes I did, used the same library, and came to maturity in that special place. One was a stewardess for American Airlines.  One graduated two years before I matriculated.  Only when we hear the details does the pain hit. Only when we come to know the individuals behind the numbers do the tears flow as they did when I read the story of Michael Ferugio, class of '87.

He had befriended the maintenance and cleaning staff.  His address book found by his wife after his death had a phone number with the following notation: "Ludmilla, cleaning woman, 31st floor-WT2, son is at Penn State!!" 

The abstract numbers mask the pain. They hide the human dimension.  The frequency of mass murders and deaths decreed by terrorists overwhelm our ability to appreciate or understand the human cost.  Each death ripples out, affecting many others.  We become inured. Yet the numbers of martyred Catholics continues to increase.  The number increases in the Middle East, in India, in China and elsewhere.  We pray for those whose faith was strong.  We pray that they will be examples for us.  The following describes the deaths of Jesuit Fathers Mangin and Denn in 1900.

The assailants broke through the doors to find the congregation at Mass. The two Jesuits were at the altar. The killers offered to spare those who would apostasized. A frightened few did. As guns were fired Jesuit Fr. Denn began the Confiteor and Jesuit Fr. Mangin gave absolution. The priests died first.  Some of the assailants began shooting while others slashed their victims with swords. The chapel roof was set on fire and smoked filled the building. A few worshippers escaped through the windows, uttering words of apostasy. The majority of the Catholics, however, died on the altar of holocaust.

The collect for Mass asked for what we all need, even today.
"As you gave Augustine Zhao-rong
and the martyrs of China
the courage to suffer death for Christ,
give us the courage
to live in faithful witness to you."

I was in France two years ago.  It was a wonderful time.  I went berserk with the camera, particularly on Friday afternoons and weekends.  

 Garden scene in the garth at the Jesuit community in Lyon.

Gladiola in the garth.

Lemonade shop in Vieux Lyon.

Light sculpture in the train station. 

Train station in Lyon. 

Basilique ND de Fourviere

Fireworks at the Basilique on 14 July.   If you are in France DO NOT call it Bastille Day.  You will be severely corrected.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD


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