Chinese martyrs

Sometimes someone asks: “What’s the story with our Brothers who were killed in Peking in 1900, during the Boxer Revolt? Why aren’t they saints when the Franciscans, killed in the same circumstances, have already been canonized?

When we speak of this group of Brothers, we are talking in particular about:
* Brother Jules André Brun, Visitor, 37, killed on 12 August 1900;
* Brother Joseph Félicité Planche, director of the orphanage, 28, killed on 18 July 1900;
* Brother Joseph Maria Odon, Chinese brother, 26, killed at Chala, 17 June 1900, and
* Postulant Paul Jen, killed at Chala, 17 June 1900.

It is necessary to distinguish this group from the Brothers who were killed in a very different context in 1906 at Nanchang: Brs. Léon, Louis Maurice, Prosper Victor, Joseph Amphien, and Marius.

These Brothers of Peking were killed by the Boxers at the same time as four Lazarist Fathers and a great multitude of Chinese Christians.

The diocesan process for this group of martyrs was commenced in Peking on the 1st of January 1913 and completed on 28 May 1935. Two copies of the acts of the diocesan process were sent to Rome. The first copy, called the Transumptum, remains in the Vatican; the second, called the Copia Pubblica, was passed on to the Religious Congregation responsible for the cause: the Lazarist Fathers.
The Copia Pubblica, in fact, went astray and apparently was never sent to the Lazarist Congregation. Not having the documents from the Diocesan Process at our disposal, we (Lazarists and Marists) gradually forgot these martyrs.

But recently, the new Postulator of the Lazarist Fathers was able to rediscover the Transumptum, the first copy of the acts of the diocesan process. It was in the Vatican Archives. Those in charge of the archives have wanted to make a C.D. of all the documents: 1.500 pages, handwritten and in Latin. It will be necessary to digitalise these 1500 pages, translate them into a modern language: French or Italian, and make the work known again to the Congregation for saints’ causes as the Copia Pubblica. After this, the Roman phase of the process will begin.

This group of martyrs is certainly in the style of those we are looking for today. Around four Lazarist Fathers and four Marist Brothers, there are a great number of Christians of the young Church of China, hundreds of men and women of all categories and all ages. The ages range from 77 to 2: entire families were exterminated.

Without doubt, the Boxer Movement was a patriotic movement, in favour of a totally independent China. There is a political dimension in all this. But cases of martyrs without a political dimension are rare: the official reason for the Lord being condemned to death was political: he was making himself King: « Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews! ». The Chinese Christians who apostasized had their lives spared, the others who did not renounce Christ were massacred.

The rediscovery of the Transumptum allows us to hope for the opening of the Roman phase, where the testimonies, documents, writings, the historical context and the reasons for martyrdom will be studied by the theologians… This is a long phase but a possible one now we have the documents. Those principally responsible for this cause are the Lazarist Fathers, but we will be collaborating with them.

Letter asking for the opening of the cause:

In the documents of this group of martyrs, we have a letter of 1912, from a Brother in China, Brother Antonin, asking the Reverend Brother Stratonique to open the cause. It is interesting to know its contents:

Changhai, 17 May 1912

Very Reverend Brother,

On my departure for China three years ago, you were insistent on giving me a letter which could serve me as introduction to Monsignor Ferrant, in the case that it was possible to investigate the cause of the Brothers of Nanchang (1906). You know the results of my approach to the bishop; I wrote to you about them in the month of October 1909, if my memory serves me right.

Today, Reverend Brother, I am coming to talk to you, not about our Brother martyrs of Nanchang, but about those of Peking in 1900: dear Brothers Jules André, Joseph Félicité, Joseph Marie Odon and the postulant Paul Jen.

It was your circular, Reverend Brother, which determined this approach. Reading the report on the cause of dear Brother François encouraged me in an idea which I have had for a long time, and which, it seems to me, I should be doing something about: the introduction, if the Superiors are in favour, of the cause of our martyrs of Peking.

Too little informed about a question so new to me, I consulted a Reverend Jesuit Father, who has a great experience in this matter, having been postulator for more than ten causes. The good Father has not only encouraged me, but given me some information about the procedures as well. He also informed me that the cause of the Jesuit Fathers, killed in South East Tchéli in 1900, had probably already been introduced, and that he could see no reason why that of the Brothers should not be, quite the contrary. Finally, he told me that for himself, – and he is experienced in this matter – the martyrdom was not in doubt (the martyrdom of our Brothers of Peking, I understood.)

That is why, Reverend Brother, it seems to me that the cause is a good one.

As important information, Father Rossi (Prince Rossi) has told me the following: It is enough for your Superior General to ask the Congregation of Rites for a postulator of the cause. This postulator, if he is appointed in Europe, will designate in China a vice-postulator, who will undertake all the necessary proceedings, and this vice-postulator may be a Brother.

That, Reverend Brother, is the important matter that I had to tell you about today.

The Brothers who knew Brothers Jules André and Joseph Félicité have the greatest veneration for them and esteem them as Saints. Monsignor Tiberguien, passing through Peking, wanted to kneel at the tomb of these Brothers, and recommended us to begin their process without delay; it is much easier when there are witnesses still living.

It is in all simplicity, Reverend Brother, that I submit this matter to your judgment. And in the hope that it will have a happy outcome, I declare myself, Reverend Brother, your very humble and obedient servant,

Brother Antonin

Br. Giovanni Bigotto