SAINT AGOSTINO ZHAO RONG (1746-1815) and 119 COMPANIONS (d.1648-1930), martyrs in China
Today, the Church honors Saint Agostino (Augustine) Zhao Rong and 119 companions, commonly called the “120 Martyrs of China”, a martyrdom which was visited upon God’s faithful children from the 17th to the 20th centuries.
Christianity arrived in China by way of Syria in the 7th century. Depending on China’s relations with the outside world, Christianity over the centuries was free to grow or was forced to operate secretly.
From 1648 until 1930, there were 120 martyrs whom the Church publicly recognizes, who gave their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ, although there were thousands more whose names shall remain nameless and known only to the Merciful Love of God. Out of the 120, there were 87 Chinese and 33 foreigners. Agostino was neither the first of the martyrs nor the one highest in the Church hierarchy among those killed for their faith – as there were seven bishops, but none of the hierarchy was native to Chinese soil.
Agostino’s name was placed first on the list because he was the first native martyr who was an ordained priest. Born in 1746, he was a native Mandarin of Guizhou, and was one of the soldiers who had escorted Monsignor Dufresse from Chengdu to his martyrdom in Beijing. Moved by the bishop’s patience and kindness, Agostino asked to be numbered among the neophytes to be educated in the faith. Once baptized at the age of thirty, he was sent to the seminary and then ordained a priest five years later.
After more than thirty years as a priest who was faithful to his ministry, he was arrested for being Catholic and for the work he was accomplishing in catechizing and baptizing others into the faith. Father Agostino had to suffer some of the cruelest tortures devised by man, and eventually died while in prison at Chengdu in the province of Sichuan in southwest China in 1815.
On October 1, 2000, all 120 martyrs were canonized by Pope St. John Paul II, who stated, “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.” Saint John Paul further added that the faith which these martyrs exhibited is “an example of courage and consistency to us all.”
We commemorate their joint feastday on July 9.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, catholicnews.sg and vatican.va/news_services)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Agostino Zhao Rong and companions)
“All-powerful, Ever-living God, turn our weakness into strength. As You gave Your martyrs Agostino Zhao Rong and his companions the courage to suffer death for Christ, give us the courage to live in faithful witness to You.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”