October 1, 2000
volume 11, no. 187

Canonizations and Beatifications for Sunday, October 1, 2000

VATICAN, Sep. 28, 00 (

    The canonization of 120 Chinese martyrs, which will take place on October 1, has generated headlines because of protests from Beijing. But this Sunday's ceremonies will also see the canonization of three other saints worthy of public notice.


  • Blessed Josephine Bakhita, a former slave in Sudan, became a nun in Italy late in the 19th century. Archbishop Gabriel Zubeir Waco of Khartoum, arriving in Rome on Thursday in anticipation of the ceremony, the canonization of a Sudanese native would send "a message of unity and pardon" to a country now torn by civil war and widespread famine.

        Born in 1869, the future saint was sold into slavery when she was 7 years ago, and given the name Bakhita, which means "fortunate one." She was bought and sold five times, and lived under masters who subjected her to extraordinarily cruel treatment, before being bought by an Italian diplomat whose family introduced her to Christianity. Eventually, when the Italian family left Sudan to escape the insurrection launched by the Mahdi, she found herself in Italy, being educated by Canossion sisters. She was baptized in 1890, taking the name Josephine, and eventually entered the Canossian order.

        Although she lived a simple, humble life as a religious, she became widely known for her holiness. Her reputation spread immensely with the publication of her memoirs, in which she recalled the harsh treatment she had received during her years of slavery, but reasoned that all her suffering was part of God's providential plan.

        Blessed Josephine Bakhita will be the first African native to be canonized who did not suffer a martyr's death. Archbishop Waco believes that she "opens our eyes to a message that the Christians of Sudan especially need to hear at this particular point in time. Her message is that God loves us despite our suffering, that love always triumphs in the end, that we must pardon our persecutors."


  • Blessed Katherine Drexel will be the second native of the United States to be proclaimed a saint. Born in 1858 in Philadelphia, into one of that city's most prominent families, she became acutely concerned with the plight of African-Americans and Indians. In 1887 she traveled to Rome to ask Pope Leo XIII to send missionaries to those groups; his response prompted her to become a missionary herself.

        In 1891 she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, devoted to the education of Indians and black Americans. With support from her family's fortune, she established an astounding 60 schools and missions in the western and southern United States, including Xavier University in New Orleans. Incapacitated by illness for the final 18 years of her life, she died in 1955; she was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.


  • Blessed Maria Josefa (of the Heart of Jesus) Sancho de Guerra, the third women among those to be canonized on October 1, lived in roughly the same epoch as the other two.

        Born in Vitoria, in northern Spain, in 1842, she founded the Institute of Sister Servants of Jesus, which was devoted to the care of the poor, infants, the sick, and the aged. She too was a prodigious builder of institutions, who founded 42 houses before her death in 1912.

    History of the Faith in Asian Country is Marked by Persecutions

    ROME, SEPT. 27, 2000 (

        The upcoming canonization of 120 China martyrs has triggered sharp criticism from Beijing and brought to focus the hard history that Christianity has faced in the world's most populous country.

        Christianity' presence in China has been marked by periods of growth -- and violent persecutions.

        The faith first appeared in China, under the guise of Nestorianism, in 635. The heresy was abolished by decree in 845.

        The first Catholic mission in Beijing was founded by Italian Franciscan Giovanni de Montecorvino in 1234. He baptized thousands and founded three churches. Other Franciscan missionaries, including bishops, arrived in 1300. By then, Catholics numbered 30,000.

        In 1549 Ignatius of Loyola sent Francis Xavier to China. By 1600, 25 Jesuit missionaries were in China, along with 22 Franciscans, two Augustinians and a Dominican.

        Missionaries in China were a select group. In addition to their spirit of faith and love, they were chosen for their cultural talents and scientific know-how, particularly in astronomy and mathematics. Thanks to the missionaries, the Chinese calendar was corrected.

        The missionaries' cultural and scientific qualifications opened many doors to them, and the quality of their religious life led many upper class people to convert.

        The first martyrs died in 1648. After being imprisoned and tortured, Dominican Father Francisco Fernandez de Capillas was decapitated while praying the rosary with several others. The Holy See has recognized him as a protomartyr of China.

        Thanks to the missionaries' culture and scientific knowledge, emperor K'ang Hsi (1654-1722) decreed religious liberty, opening the empire further to evangelization.

        However, the relation between China and Christianity ran into its worst problem with the famous debate over "Chinese rites." Some of the missionaries condemned the rites offered by the Chinese to their ancestors, as well as other superstitions. In the first decade of the 18th century, this controversy caused a wave of persecutions against missionaries and lay faithful; the latter were killed and their churches destroyed. The same phenomenon occurred in the 19th century.

        Persecution was harsh in the 1796-1820 period. Among the era's many martyrs was Augustine Tchao, a soldier who helped escort Bishop Jean Gabriel Taurin Dufresse of the Foreign Missions of Paris.

        Tchao was so impressed by the bishop's patience that he asked to become a convert. Once baptized, he was sent to the seminary and eventually was ordained a priest. During the persecution he was arrested and cruelly tortured before being put to death.

        After China's military defeat by England, there were several decrees in favor of religious liberty. In 1844 the Chinese were allowed to profess the Catholic faith and, in 1846, the former penalties against Catholics were abolished. The Church lived in the open and carried out its mission.

        By 1907 China had 1 million Catholics. Three large Catholic universities were founded, as well as a meteorological center, day-care centers, orphanages and high-level cultural institutes.

        Turn-of-the-century violence led to new persecution. The Boxer Rebellion, organized by a Chinese secret society that detested foreigners, caused the death of many Christians. Other secret groups who shared the same hatreds joined the rebellion.

        Fueling the persecution of the missionaries was the Boxers' hatred of Christianity. A decree dated July 1, 1900, put an end to good relations with missionaries and Christians. The former had to leave and the latter were given the choice between apostasy and death. Massacres soon erupted.

        Among the numerous martyrs was Jesuit Father Leo Magin. A Frenchman, he was sent to the Tchou-kia-ho mission, a village of some 400 inhabitants, which grew to 3,000 as a result of the Boxers' persecution.

        Father Magin first fortified the village, but the Boxers overturned the barricades and invaded. Father Magin was in the church, protecting the women and children who had sought refuge there. He and another priest, Father Paul Denn, dressed in their priestly vestments and went to the altar; the congregation was kneeling in prayer.

        In midmorning the Boxers knocked down the church doors, promising life to anyone who denied the faith. Very few people apostatized. The two priests, and virtually the entire congregation, were massacred. ZE00092703

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