The Unknown Story Of China’s Martyrs

Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. of the Catholic World Report, writes:

Only hours after Bishop Ma Daqin was consecrated the auxiliary bishop of Shanghai in July, 2012, the 54-year-old champion of Shanghai’s Catholic community was quietly escorted away by plain-clothed Communist officers. He has not been seen publicly since. Bishop Ma was favored and recognized by Pope Benedict XVI, and was set to succeed the recently-deceased bishop of Shanghai, Aloysius Jin Luxian, SJ (1916-2013), a Jesuit who suffered 27 years of imprisonment before his release. China’s Communist government only begrudgingly allows Catholicism to remain active, and the state is adamant that Church hierarchy remains obedient first to the government, and governs the Catholic community in complete separation from the Holy Father in Rome “in all matters except spiritual ones.” Ma Daqin is first a Catholic, and for this he is now under house arrest.

During his ordination as bishop, Ma Daqin allowed the three consecrating bishops who are in communion with the Holy See to lay hands on him, but when an illegitimate, state-supported bishop approached him, Ma stood up to embrace the other bishops, defying state interference in Church law. And after this bold act, the new Bishop Ma announced in his public thank-you speech that he declined any further affiliation with the Communist-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. He would, he said, devote himself only to his ministry as a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. Shanghai’s crowded Saint Ignatius cathedral erupted into a long and enthusiastic applause of open support for the bishop’s defiance against the government.

I was told by sources in Beijing that Bishop Ma is still under arrest at the Sheshan Catholic seminary near Shanghai, and is undergoing “reeducation” by the local authorities. While I could not confirm that information, I know that China’s Catholics are heartened by Bishop Ma’s courageous opposition to Communist control, and continue to pray for a renewed era of clerical resistance to the state’s heavy, and often cruel, interference in the Church’s life and affairs in China.

Accusations: The People’s Court and the Trappist Monks of Yangjiaping

An exceptional account of what the Communists did to the Trappists next is found in Gerolamo Fazzini’s, The Red Book of Chinese Martyrs, though even this work does not provide all the tragic details. (7) By April 1947, the Communists began gathering people near the Abbey and conducted “peasant association meetings,” during which the Party cadres contrived false allegations that the monks had taken land from “the People,” and that the Catholics were determined to tyrannize the Chinese. After pillaging the monastery, the Communists organized an open-air trial before more than a thousand villagers. At the first of these “People’s courts,” on July 1, 1947, two of the monks were dragged before a crowd, accused of “oppressing the people of China,” and ordered to give the Abbey’s goats to the peasants.

At another trial on July 10, the monks were again presented to the People’s Court. The 39-year-old Father Seraphin, OCSA (1909-1948), was, as Thomas Merton, OCSA wrote in his The Waters of Siloe, “marked out for particularly cruel treatment,” and was “beaten across the back with clubs for two hours” in the presence of the villagers, many of whom were formerly friends of the Abbey. (8) The monks stood on stage stripped to the waist—the Communists tore their habits during their arrests. The charge: the Abbey had collaborated with foreign colonial powers during the Boxer Uprising and used the guns received from the French government to oppress the Chinese people. The verdict: the People’s court ordered the monks to repay to the local peasants all it “had stolen from the people.” The next trial was held on the morning of July 23. The Communist soldiers kicked the monks as they walked from their residence to the Abbey church, where the soldiers occupied the choir stalls while the monks began to chant the morning Divine Office: LaudÁte Dóminum de cælis; laudÁte eum in excélsis, “Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above.” (9) Peasants filed into the nave as they sang.

Theresa Marie Moreau’s dramatic book, Blood of the Martyrs: Trappist Monks in Communist China, describes the scene of this final trial in the Abbey church:

A table for the judges had been placed underneath the extinguished sanctuary lamp. … Father Gulielmus Cambourieu [OCSO (1870-1947)], gifted with a sensitive nature, whispered to his confreres, “We’re all going to die martyrs. Let’s make a general Act of Contrition.” They were to be tried before another People’s Court. (10)

The Communist court summoned Father Seraphin to the platform and accused him of spying among the neighboring villages, gathering information for the Japanese. After he denied the false charge, members of the People’s Liberation Army were ordered to beat the monk with clubs. The abuse was so severe that Father Seraphin cried out, “Have a little mercy.” His judge’s reply was direct: “The time for mercy is past; this is the hour of our revenge.” (11) A young Catholic woman named Maria Zhang was commanded to testify against Father Seraphin, but after she defended him before the court she was tied to a column and beaten on her head and back. Collapsing from the abuse, the Communists thought she was dead; “they took one of their crude festal banners, threw it over the prostrate form, then calmly resumed the trial.” (12)

Selected village representatives gathered in the nave, and at last demanded that the entire Trappist community should be executed. The Party cadre officiating at the trial coldly informed the monks that, “the people’s decision is our decision; for the Communist government is the people’s government.” (13) One after the next, the Trappist monks were forced to the corner of the church, near where the vigil lamp of the Blessed Sacrament was suspended, and their hands and feet were shackled in chains. Their rosaries, scapulars, and holy medals were taken away, and they were escorted to the monastery refectory, where they were imprisoned to await their punishment. The monks submitted to Christ’s divine will, for as Saint Benedict had written in his Rule, “monks are men who can claim no dominion even over their own bodies or wills.” (14) The trial and the accusations were a charade. The Abbey and the surrounding villages had always lived in peace, and the monks had even helped the villagers on many occasions. The Party had carefully orchestrated the trials and beatings; they had turned the villagers against the monks with fabricated rumors and encouraged them to raid the monastery’s provisions and seize its land and animals. The Trappists had lost everything but their lives, but many would lose even those.

The hidden history of China’s Communist government

China’s current government is careful to hide the events of this tragedy, and few people in and out of China today are aware of the unpitying violence the Communist Party has inflicted upon China’s Catholics. Over the past several years the horrific events of the Trappist martyrdoms in 1947 China have punctuated my research on other historical events. After Mass at Beijing’s West Church, an elderly Catholic man called me to the parish center to show me materials he had gathered about the Yangjiaping massacre, and suggested a surreptitious meeting with one of the Abbey survivors. I later met this survivor and recorded his tragic story of what happened. Last year, Theresa Marie Moreau kindly sent me a copy of her book, Blood of the Martyrs, and in a recent correspondence she expressed her hope that the Trappist martyrs of China are someday elevated to the honor of the Altar as canonized saints in the Catholic Church. And during research visits to important Catholic archives in Europe, I inadvertently came across several rare documents related to the Trappist monks in China who were tried, tortured, and martyred by Chinese Communists.

Other accounts of Communist persecution of China’s Catholics have been given to me during recent trips to China. “We can’t say anything about this,” they tell me, “but you can.” In the next several columns I am writing for Catholic World Report, I will honor the wish of these holy and suffering Chinese Catholics, and tell some of these stories so more may know about the atrocities committed against the Church in China by its current government. Mao’s People’s Liberation Army, his Red Guards, and his Party officials have buried priests alive, tortured them in cruel prisons, and subjected countless faithful Christians to “reeducation” classes and years of harsh conditions at remote Labor Camps.

In the next edition of “Clark on China,” I shall outline what happened to the Trappist monks of Our Lady of Consolation Abbey at Yangjiaping after their trials. Relying on several sources, including the report taken by Father Charles J. McCarthy in 1947 and the testimony given to me by one of the survivors, I will describe the terrible death march inflicted on the monks, and the awful torments they endured under China’s People’s Liberation Army. As one Communist soldier informed the monks, “Before long, in our territories there will be no Catholic Church.” Despite their sufferings, or perhaps because of them, the area around Yangjiaping now boasts a thriving Catholic population. The Trappist monks, and the Chinese Catholics today who remember their torments in 1947, highlight well the words of Saint Peter in his first Epistle:

Beloved, do not be startled at the trial by fire now taking place among you to prove you, as if something strange were happening to you; but rejoice, in so far as you are partakers in the suffering of Christ. (15)

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Posted by Theodore Shoebat

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