In July of 1900, the “Boxer” rebels in China killed Christians by the thousands. On July 9, during the Taiyuan Massacre, the rebels beheaded bishops, priests, and laypeople.
Today’s Memorial Mass, however, recalls not just the martyrs of that month, but all the martyrs of China, throughout the history of evangelization there, which stretches back over a millennium and a half.
Augustin Zhao Rong, a Chinese soldier, witnessed the calm suffering of a French missionary priest martyr in 1815. Augustin requested baptism and then studied and became a priest. He was himself martyred almost immediately.
Anyone ever heard of Fr. Matteo Ricci? He traveled to China during the great Age of Exploration, the sixteenth century. He inaugurated the “modern” era of evangelization in China. He is one of my most beloved personal heroes.
Everything noble, beautiful, religious, and impressive about the ancient Chinese way of life, Fr. Ricci respected. Everything interesting, insightful, and helpful that he had in his own mind and way of life, he offered freely to the Chinese with whom he made friends. Because he loved Christ so much, Fr. Ricci became as Chinese as the Chinese, so that he could invite them to become Christians.
The Boxers of China hated all foreigners and believed that celestial spirits guided them in their murderous massacres. It seems ironic how a lot of people who hate the Church tend to regard us as a strange foreign novelty, which is totally behind the times. In other words, too new-fangled and too old-fashioned, all at the same time. No surprise that the Church which is both ever-ancient and ever-new would be despised in this irrational way.
Anyway, I wish I knew a lot more about the Chinese martyrs and Chinese missionary history. But one lesson I think we can learn is: If we love Jesus Christ above all things, and if we love everything good and wholesome in our neighbors, we just might have the good fortune to die as martyrs ourselves.