Thursday, July 10, 2008

Seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary

July is a great month for saints, unfortunately it’s because a lot of religious persecutions really get going in the heat of the summer. Many great saints received the crown of martyrdom in July.

Such was the case for these seven women, who were among the tens of thousands of Christians massacred in 1900 during China’s Boxer Rebellion. (The fanatical Boxers could be compared to today’s Taliban. Their victims included many American Protestant missionary families, and the sheer brutality of the riots made headlines around the world.)

The seven Sisters honored today were from France, Italy, Belgium and Holland, members of a new missionary order, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. The youngest of them, Maria della Pace, was twenty-four and the oldest, Marie de St Natalie was thirty-five. Within months of their arrival in China they had established a charity hospital and orphanage in Shanghai’s capital.

That summer, when the Boxer riots reached Shanxi, their bishop tried to get the Sisters to evacuate, but the Sisters refused to leave their work. One of them wrote home: “I attach myself to the Will of God as the anchor of salvation.”

The Sisters were arrested with 33 other Christians, including a 66-year-old widow and six orphaned children. Days later, three thousand Boxers watched them sing hymns as they filed in to face the viceroy. As the hearing began, the viceroy quarreled with the bishop, then ordered his soldiers to kill them all. The Boxers immediately began hacking at heads and limbs. A Boxer witness said later: “What was most astonishing was to see these ‘she-devil Christians’ die singing.” The Martyrs of Shanxi were canonized with the Martyrs of China in 2000. They are venerated by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary on July 10.

The Faith is still strong in China and the Order is still doing great work throughout the world. You can find out more about these wonderful women on their Order’s website, where they note that their seven martyred sisters all shared “the earnest desire to open their lives to the Spirit and to respond to God's call to the end.”

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