CAPPELLA PAPALE FOR THE CANONIZATION OF 123 NEW SAINTS
HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II
Sunday 1 October 2000
1. “Your word is truth; sanctify us in your love“ (Gospel Acclamation, Italian Lectionary; cf. Jn 17: 17). This invocation, an echo of Christ’s prayer to the Father after the Last Supper, seems to rise from the host of saints and blesseds whom the Spirit of God continues to raise up in his Church from generation to generation.
Today, 2,000 years since the beginning of Redemption, we make these words our own, while we have before us as models of holiness Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions, martyrs in China, María Josefa of the Heart of Jesus Sancho de Guerra, Katharine Mary Drexel and Josephine Bakhita. God the Father “sanctified them in his love”, granting the request of the Son, who opened his arms on the Cross, put an end to death and revealed the resurrection, in order to win for the Father a holy people (cf. Eucharistic Prayer II, Preface).
I extend my cordial greeting to you all, dear brothers and sisters, gathered here in great numbers to express your devotion to these shining witnesses of the Gospel.
2. “The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart” (Responsorial Psalm). These words of the Responsorial Psalm clearly reflect the experience of Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions, martyrs in China. The testimonies which have come down to us allow us to glimpse in them a state of mind marked by deep serenity and joy.
Today the Church is grateful to her Lord, who blesses her and bathes her in light with the radiant holiness of these sons and daughters of China. Is not the Holy Year the most appropriate moment to make their heroic witness shine resplendently? Young Ann Wang, a 14-year-old, withstood the threats of the torturers who invited her to apostatize. Ready for her beheading, she declared with a radiant face: “The door of heaven is open to all”, three times murmuring: “Jesus”. And 18-year-old Chi Zhuzi, cried out fearlessly to those who had just cut off his right arm and were preparing to flay him alive: “Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you that I am Christian”.
The other 85 Chinese men and women of every age and state, priests, religious and lay people, showed the same conviction and joy, sealing their unfailing fidelity to Christ and the Church with the gift of their lives. This occurred over the course of several centuries and in a complex and difficult era of China’s history. Today’s celebration is not the appropriate time to pass judgement on those historical periods: this can and should be done elsewhere. Today, with this solemn proclamation of holiness, the Church intends merely to recognize that those martyrs are an example of courage and consistency to us all, and that they honour the noble Chinese people.
Resplendent in this host of martyrs are also the 33 missionaries who left their land and sought to immerse themselves in the Chinese world, lovingly assimilating its features in the desire to proclaim Christ and to serve those people. Their tombs are there as if to signify their definitive belonging to China, which they deeply loved, although with their human limitations, and for which they spent all their energies. “We never wronged anyone”, Bishop Francis Fogolla replied to the governor who was preparing to strike him with his sword. “On the contrary, we have done good to many”. (In Chinese) God sends down happiness.
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