While China’s growing economic prowess and assumption of American manufacturing jobs may weigh heavily on our minds today, China at the turn of 19th century into the 20th was writhing under foreign occupation.
Christian missionaries have often gotten caught in the crossfire of wars against their own countries. When the governments of Britain, Germany, Russia and France forced substantial territorial concessions from the Chinese in 1898, anti-foreign sentiment grew very strong among many Chinese people. Throughout China during the Boxer Uprising, five bishops, 50 priests, two brothers, 15 sisters and 40,000 Chinese Christians were killed.
Gregory Grassi was born in Italy in 1833, ordained in 1856 and sent to China five years later. Grassi was later ordained Bishop of North Shanxi. One of the principal promoters of the Boxer movement was the governor Yu Hsien who resided at Taiyuanfu, Shansi. In this city was also the residence of the Franciscan Bishop Gregory Grassi, vicar apostolic of northern Shansi, and his coadjutor, Bishop Francis Fogolla. Here were also a seminary and an orphanage. The latter was conducted by Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary who had arrived only the previous year.
During the night of July 5, Yu Hsien’s soldiers appeared at the Franciscan mission and arrested the two bishops, two fathers and a brother, and seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. Five Chinese seminarians, and eight Chinese Christians who were employed at the mission were also apprehended. In prison they were joined by one more Chinese Christian who went there voluntarily.
Four days later, on July 9, 1900, all of them were taken before the tribunal of Yu Hsien, some of them being slashed with swords on the way. Yu Hsien ordered them to be killed on the spot, and an indescribable scene followed. The soldiers closed in on the prisoners, struck them at random with their swords, wounded them right and left, cut off their arms and legs and heads. Thus died the 26 martyrs of Taiyuanfu, of whom all except three belonged to the First Order and Third Order Regular and Secular of St. Francis. They were beatified on January 3, 1943 and elevated to sainthood by JPII on 1 Oct 2000.
A list of the Martyrs of Taiyuanfu follows:
- Saint Gregory Grassi, bishop, who was 68 years old,
- Saint Francis Fogolla, bishop,
- Saint Elias Facchini, a priest from Italy,
- Saint Theodoric Balat, a priest from France,
- Saint Andrew Bauer, a lay brother from Alsace.
Seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, the protomartyrs (first martyrs) of their congregation and its first members to be beatified. All were between the ages of 25 and 35:
- Saint Mother Mary Hermine Givot from France, the superior,
- Saint Mother Mary of Peace Giuliani from Italy,
- Saint Mother Mary Clare Nanetti from Italy,
- Saint Sister Mary of Ste. Natalie Kerguin from France,
- Saint Sister Mary of St. Just Moreau from France,
- Saint Sister Mary Amandine Jeuris from Belgium,
- Saint Sister Mary Adolphine Dierkx from Holland.
- Five Chinese seminarians, ages 16 through 22.
- Nine laymen who had been employed at the episcopal residence and mission, ages 29 to 62.
- Fourteen of the martyrs were natives of China and 12 were Europeans.
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” – Tertullian (160 – 220 AD)
Despite the evidence of this persecution and continued persecution, the 146,575 Catholics served by the Franciscans in China in 1906 would grow to 303,760 by 1924 and were served by 282 Franciscans and 174 local priests.
“O God, Who desires that all men be saved and come to the acknowledgement of Truth, grant, we beseech You, through the intercession of Your blessed martyrs Bishops Gregory, Francis, and Antonine (Fantosati, who was stoned to death separately), and their companions, that all nations may know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent, our Lord. Amen.”