Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Optional Memorial: Saint Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions

“St. Augustine Zhao Rong”
Artist and Date are unknown. Via Memorial Bench.
Christianity arrived in China by way of Syria in the 600s. Depending on China's relations with the outside world, Christianity over the centuries was free to grow or was forced to operate secretly.

The 120 martyrs in this group died between 1648 and 1930. Most of them (eighty-seven) were born in China and were children, parents, catechists or laborers, ranging from nine years of age to seventy-two. This group includes four Chinese diocesan priests.

The thirty-three foreign-born martyrs were mostly priests or women religious, especially from the Order of Preachers, the Paris Foreign Mission Society, the Friars Minor, Jesuits, Salesians and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.

Augustine Zhao Rong was a Chinese soldier who accompanied Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse (Paris Foreign Mission Society) to his martyrdom in Beijing. Augustine was baptized and not long after was ordained as a diocesan priest. He was martyred in 1815.

Beatified in groups at various times, these 120 martyrs were canonized in Rome on October 1, 2000. ...

The fact that this considerable number of Chinese lay faithful offered their lives for Christ together with the missionaries who had proclaimed the Gospel to them and had been so devoted to them is evidence of the depth of the link that faith in Christ establishes. It gathers into a single family people of various races and cultures, strongly uniting them not for political motives but in virtue of a religion that preaches love, brotherhood, peace and justice.
I am not sure why but I have always been fascinated by the witness of these brave Catholics in China. Perhaps it is because I've always been interested in China anyway and so these saints naturally draw my attention. Their witness is just as important today as when they were martyred.

You may read more about the individual martyrs.

One of them who recently came to my attention is St. Mark Ji Tianxiang. He was highly respected until he treated himself for an illness with opium and became addicted. Sounds just like the morphine problem after WWII or today's opioid addiction crisis, doesn't it? As he continually struggled with his addiction, his confessor gradually became convinced that the repeated confessions meant that Tianxiang wasn't really trying. So he was banned from the sacraments ... for 30 years. But Tianxiang never turned away from the Church, instead praying that he could become a martyr. His entire family was martyred during the Boxer Rebellion.
Ji begged his captors to kill him last so that none of his family would have to die alone. He stood beside all nine of them as they were beheaded.
That is a beautiful bit of selflessness that I hope I would have the courage to emulate. Read his story here.


  1. Hello, the above icon is NOT of Saint Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions. That's the icon of the Eastern Orthodox Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion. If you look closely at the icon, you will see that says so in upper part. Unfortunately, several other Catholic sites have made the same mistake. Thought I'd let you know. May God bless you.

    1. Thanks for the heads up. Fixed it! :-)