Friday, June 30, 2006

I am ready to die for them because they are children of God (Rani Maria Vatallil)

Maryam Vatallil was born to a Catholic family in Kerala. Her decision to enter religious life was objected by members of her family, but her grandmother said, “Why do you oppose Marykunju joining the convent? Is she not going for a noble cause? How many parents desire that children become priests and nuns? But does that happen? The vocation to the religious life is not given to all. God gives it only to some.” Joining the Franciscan Clarist congregation, she took the name Rani Maria. As a nun, she worked among the poor and helped alleviate their lives. She was met with opposition by men in power. One nun remarked about her, “Sr. Rani Maria mostly worked among the adivasis and among those who were marginalized by the society. They loved her as a mother because it was for the first time that they saw a person who shared their life, lived with them and acted in their favour. Her nature was not one that would run away from difficulties and oppositions.”

Sr. Rani Maria faced opposition from those in authority. For example, in Odgady, she protected the poor people whom she had helped from abusive money-lenders. Sr. Rani made the poor people aware of their rights. She was faced with opposition from the money-lenders, but she continued serving the poor.

During the 1994 elections, the police arrested many innocent poor people. Sr. Rani worked for them, hired a lawyer and had them released. The angered police and a political leader sought of ways to kill the nun. They knew that she would be going to Kerala to visit her parents.

On February 25, 1995, Sr. Rani was on a bus bound for Kerala. A hired murderer in the bus stabbed Sr. Rani repeatedly. The bus stopped, and the people left out of fear. Then, he dragged Sr. Rani outside the bus and continued stabbing her until she died. She died crying out the name of Jesus. She died in the midst of the people, many of whom she knew, some of them whom she did help. But they could not do anything. The murderers abandoned her body and ran away.

About 12,000 people took part in Sr. Rani’s funeral. Because of Sr. Rani’s death, the missionaries gained the trust of the people and found it easier to work with them. In the year 2002, the nuns visited Sr. Rani’s murderer, who was in prison. It was the day before the feast of "Rakshabandhan'. 'Rakshabandhan' is a feast of sisters. A sister would tie 'Rakhi' (hand ring) on her brother's hand and the brother assumes the responsibility to protect his sister. This ceremony fosters the love and unity between brothers and sisters. Sr. Selmy, Sr. Rani’s sister, tied the rakhi on the hands of the murderer as a sign of forgiveness. They ate together, and Sr. Selmy assured the murderer that she forgives him.

Sr. Rani once said, “I am deeply convinced that I am called to work for the poor and the oppressed. I am ready to die for them because they are children of God and as such our sisters and brothers.”

I am a soldier of Christ (Roy Pontoh)

It was in January, 1999. Fanatic Muslims were coming to attack a group of Christian teens who gathered in a university for a Bible study meeting. The older men decided to hide the teens. Cars came to rescue the young people, but there were no enough cars for them. Four adults left the children to get more cars, but they did not return. The men were attacked by the Muslim crowd and two of them were killed.

Before long, the mob reached the University. They found many of the teens and forced them to come out of hiding. Roy Pontoh was forced from his hiding place and made to stand before the mob.

“Renounce your Jesus or we will kill you!” they threatened. Roy was terribly frightened. Though trembling, he answered, “I am a soldier of Christ!” At this, one of the Muslims attackers swung a sword at his stomach. The sword hit the Bible Roy held and ripped into it, knocking it out of his hand. The man's next swing sliced open Roy's stomach. His last word was “Jesus.”

The mob dragged Roy's body out and threw it in a ditch. Four days later, his family found it. Even though they are wrecked with grief, Roy's parents stand proud of their son, who stood strong in his faith to the end.

For leaving the safety and comfort of home and convent to work as rural missionaries among poor farmers (Four nuns)

Sisters Mary Consuelo Chuidian, Concepcion Conti, Virginia Gonzaga, and Catherine Loreto were on board the M/V Doña Cassandra when it sank in shark-infested waters off the coast of Northeastern Mindanao, Philippines. Survivors told of the four Sisters praying, distributing life vests, helping children put theirs on, instructing other passengers to hasten towards the life rafts and to be ready to abandon ship, not calculating how little time they had to save themselves – until time did run out. These sisters worked as rural missionaries in Mindanao. There, they defended the rights of the people abused by the military, and they themselves were often suspected as subversices.

Sister Mary Consuelo Chuidian, superior of the Davao Community, had volunteered to document the first case of hamletting, Vietnam-style, in Laac, Davao del Norte. She chaired the Women’s Alliance for True Change, was coordinator of the Rural Missionaries for Southern Mindanao, and was active in the associations of women religious in Davao and Mindanao. Her leadership inspired her community to be open to victims of every kind, especially those of Martial Law.

Sister Mary Concepcion Conti, a member of the Davao Community, had organized and headed the Community-Based Health Program in the Diocese of Tagum. She sought to train rural health workers, thus empowering them to attend to the basic health needs of the poor. She was an exceptional teacher and learner who brought her skills to her Mindanao mission.

Sister Mary Virginia Gonzaga, superior of the Sapad Community in Lanao del Norte. She had organized the Young Christian Workers in her home city and later, as a religious, worked among slum dwellers and migrant workers before she went to the Sapad mission among Christians and Muslims.

Sister Mary Catherine Loreto, 39, a member of the Davao Community, at the time of her death was coordinator of Task Force Detainees in her area. Hers was the most difficult challenge of standing up for those harassed by the military and their families, with the risk of herself falling under suspicion.

Their names were listed among other Filipinos who fought the Marcos regime. A citation read:
“For contributing to the protest movement against the Marcos dictatorship and human rights abuses, as street parliamentarians and religious superiors heading and implementing education, health, rehabilitation and justice programs, both through legal and extra-legal means;
For leaving the safety and comfort of home and convent to work as rural missionaries among poor farmers, indigenous peoples and Muslims in remote areas of Mindanao, thus becoming active witnesses to the Church’s mission to serve the poor, deprived and oppressed at the height of state repression of the Church”

The missionary from Modena (Luisa Guidotti Mistrali)

Luisa Guidotti Mistrali is a member of the Catholic Action in Modena, Italy. She finished the course of medicine and joined the Association of Women Doctor Missionaries because of her dream to become a missionary in Africa, just like her brothers. Her dream was fulfilled when she was sent to work in Rhodesia, presently called Zimbabwe. In her first three years, she worked in different hospitals while studying the culture and language of the natives. In 1969, she was sent to the All Souls Hospital in Mutoko, a poor hospital with only six huts and two washrooms. But because of help from God and her friends, she managed to turn the straw huts to buildings of masonry and founded a school for African nurses and an orphanage. In one of her letters, she wrote, “I am becoming a Shona (the Rhodesian tribe) and I am proud.” Her special concern were the abandoned lepers in the neighboring villages, whom she visited twice a week. The lepers saw in the Italian doctor a sweet and loving sister. But her love was often criticized. The hospital committee further alleged that Dr. Guidotti was over-spending on non-leprosy drugs and “unnecessary” travel expenses.

In 1976, during the civil war, Dr. Guidotti was arrested for helping a wounded guerilla boy without handing him over to the police. The crime accused to her was a serious one and is punishable by death. Dictator Ian Smith even called her the “white terrorist.” But Dr. Guidotti was apolitical and took no sides in the government conflict. Her hospital is always open for everyone. She was released four days later and was not allowed to go near the mission hospital or perform her job as a doctor. But because of international protest, Dr. Guidotti was fully acquitted of her crimes.

Dr. Guidotti’s life was spared from the dangers of the civil war, but out of love for her people, she returned to the hospital, where she was the only doctor. This brought her to greater risks of danger. Dr. Guidotti was left alone with the African nurses, since Sr. Caterina Savini, the head nurse, went back to Italy for a serious operation. She feels the weight of solitude, but she totally abandons herself to God’s will.

On July 6, 1979, Dr. Guidotti was driving her marked ambulance alone. She was going back to the hospital after bringing a woman to the hospital in Nyadiri. On the way home, she was stopped by a government police. She was shot from both sides of the road.

Her funeral was attended by a huge crowd of affected mourners, both black and white. She was seen as an example of the missionary spirit and charity, even to the point of death.

In the name of God: Stop the repression! (Oscar Romero)

In being the archbishop of San Salvador, one has to follow a careful tradition of being quiet about the elite and the abuses committed in the country. At first, everyone thought that Oscar Romero, the newly appointed archbishop, would follow the tradition. The new archbishop was a shy and reserved man. Romero, together with other bishops, drafted letters of protest against the government, which was to be read at all the masses. In it, they lamented over the fact about the government’s brutality against the peasants and the persecutions against the Catholic Church.

The new archbishop remained the same until the assassination of his friend, the Jesuit Rutilio Grande, who worked with the activists in El Salvador. From that day onwards, he became outspoken in defending his flock. The archbishop said that Grande is “Salvador’s first Christian martyr, a dedicated man of God who worked for the very poor.” The archbishop then pronounced excommunication on all who would commit violence against a priest. Romero demanded investigation for his friend’s murder, since the bullets found in his body may be from weapons by the military.

Romero finally realized that the Church do not have any influence on the government. Romero issued a letter of protest to be read in all Sunday Masses inside and outside the archdiocese.

As an act of protest, the bishops had all Catholic schools and churches closed for three days, and only one mass would be held next Sunday, to be held in the Cathedral. Romero realized that by taking this action, he would alienate himself from the landowners and the authorities, whom he had befriended. But Romero stood up against them. Even though he was reproved by the Papal Nuncio for his actions, he continued with his plan.

All the priests of the archdiocese of San Salvador attended the mass, and an estimated 100,000 faithful attended the mass. It was the largest single show of strength in El Salvador’s history, and also a death sentence for Romero. The bridges between Romero and the oligarchy started burning.
The violence was not only concentrated on radical priests, but also on the innocent peasants. Once, the soldiers used the village church in Aguillares as their barracks and desecrated it. Romero told the president, “I do not understand how you can publicly declare yourself Catholic by upbringing and conviction yet allow these unspeakable outrages on the part of the security forces in a country that we call civilized and Christian.”
It thus became obvious that the government was not for the people. With the continued killings and brutalities against the peasants and priests. Romero and the Church became targeted by the government for attack. They betrayed the Church and the people.

Romero was once thrown in jail for trying to protect a priest who was hostaged. He began receiving death threats, but he never paid any attention to them. For him, defending his flock is more important than his life. He is a true shepherd willing to lay down his life for his sheep.

Pressure against the Church and the poor continued. The White Warrior Union, a group of landowners, said that they would kill more priests. The government also denounce militant priests as “communists.” Among those who were branded as “communists” was Romero.

Some of the bishops in El Salvador also criticized Romero for his outspokenness. One said that Romero was only claiming to defend human rights, but he only wanted to be a “Latin American Jimmy Carter.” Romero knew that he had failed in many ways. But he was sure that he wasn’t guilty of the accusations thrown against him by his fellow bishops. Once, during a meeting, he raised a question about the silence of the bishops, “What have we done to prevent the murder of more than twenty teachers and the recent death of our fellow priest Fr. Rafael Palacios?” This question reminded them of God’s question to Cain when he murdered Abel.

Once, he set out for Rome for a beatification. Romero told Pope John Paul II about the problems his country is facing and called for specific replies. The Pope said he agreed with Romero, but he reminded him of the importance of unity of the bishops. While he was in Rome, the violence continued. Twenty-five people who were demonstrating in front of the Cathedral were killed by the police. When he went back to El Salvador, Romero issued a statement, saying, “As archbishop of San Salvador, I call on the consciences and hearts of those responsible not to continue their unyielding and intransigent position, but to yield and seek a way to break as soon as possible this endless chain of bloody deeds. What matters now is not to show the nation and the world who is stronger or the winner but who is more responsible and humane, capable of stopping this spiral growth of violence.” This plea only fell on deaf ears.

More bloodshed continued, and Romero reminded the Christian faithful of their vocations, “If ever they take our radio, suspend our newspaper, silence us, put to death all of us priests, bishops included, and you are left alone – people without priests – then each one of you will have to be God’s microphone. Each of you will have to be a messenger, a prophet. The church will always exist as long as even one baptized person is left alive!”

Romero stated in a homily, “The shepherd does not want security while security is no given to his flock.” Once, the president offered Romero anything he wanted as protection, even a bulletproof car. He respectfully declined the offer, saying it was an “anti-pastoral witness where I to ride in such safety while my people are so insecure.”

Meanwhile, the government continued to show some promising and modest signs o improvement. He noticed that the government was starting to respect human rights. But the government was overthrown by a new military government. They started abusing the people again. Romero wrote a letter to President Carter of the US to stop sending military support to the repressive military of El Salvador.

Romero felt that his end is coming near. In his last Sunday Mass, he said in his homily:
“er. igent position, but to yield andcall on the consciences and hearts of those responsible forront of the Cathedral were killed byGod’s law must prevail which says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfil an immoral law. It is time to take back your consciences rather than obey orders of sin. The Church, defender of the rights of God, the law of God, of human dignity, cannot remain silent before such abomination. We want the government to understand seriously that reforms are worth nothing if they are stained with so much blood. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression.”

The following Monday, March 24, 1980, Romero went to his confessor to receive the sacrament of Confession. He said, “I want to feel clean in the Lord’s presence.” That evening, he said mass in a funeral at the Divina Providencia Cancer hospital. As he was saying mass, he was shot by a gunman connected with the highest members of the El Salvadoran military. His last homily served enough for the military.

Viva Cuba! Viva Cristo Rey (Rogelio Gonzalez Corzo)

When Fidel Castro came to power, Rogelio Gonzalez Corzo, a young man and a member of the Cuban Catholic lay association of students and young professionals, the Agrupacion Catolica Universitaria, became disillusioned by Castro’s redirection of the Revolution and realized that the government was marching swiftly toward Communism. The Catholic Church in Cuba did not hesitate to criticize the new government. It made it clear that it rejected communism and the majority of Catholics began to actively oppose the enthronement of the communists. The pro-communist government had hardened its attitude toward religion and embarked on an increasingly strident and aggressive campaign against the Church. Many young Catholic intellectuals and students believed that the time for armed resistance had finally arrived, and began to plot against the government. Among those students was Rogelio, who dreamed of a Christian civilization in Cuba. He joined the underground resistance group and took the name “Francisco” as his identity. Because of is involvement with the resistance, he had very little time to be with his fiancée, Dulce.
Rogelio lived through six months of the fighting, minute by minute, never resting, to provide the resistance that he felt God had prepared him for. His spiritual depth and stature came to the fore during these darkest of times. In many respects he had to set himself apart from the world in which he had previously lived. Rogelio, or “Francisco,” was one of the most important men in the resistance, a prime target of Cuban intelligence which recognized his prowess and ability.

Rogelio was arrested on the afternoon of Saturday March 18, 1961. A number of leaders of the underground were meeting in a supposedly “safe house” to discuss plans to intensify the sabotage campaign that had been rocking the country. But since the previous fall, they were already being surrounded by Castro’s heavily armed agents.

Rogelio Gonzalez Corzo spent his last hours in a secluded section of La Cabana known as the “chapel.” Here an eyewitness has reported that he spent his time giving Christ’s comfort and strength to the other six prisoners also condemned to death.

On the morning of April 20, Rogelio was executed in la Cabana, after a summary and secret trial. His last words were “Viva Cuba, Viva Cristo Rey!” He began a final Viva to the Agrupacion Catolica Universitaria, but the discharge of bullets interrupted that Viva and ended his earthly life. He was among the many lay faithful who died proclaiming their faith.

Paul died that I might live (Paul Carlson)

Dr. Paul Carlson, a medical Evangelical missionary, was among the American and Belgian hostages by the Simba rebels in Stanleyville, Congo. He was arrested by the rebels on the charge of spying. Before his arrest, he usually told the people through radio, “To follow Jesus means to be willing to suffer for him.”

He was always beaten, tortured and mocked. Sometimes, he was even marched outside to be executed, but his life was always spared. On November 20, 1064, Dr. Paul Carlson and seven other American hostages were brought to the Victoria Hotel. The missionary and his prisonmates enjoyed a close bonding with each other. Dr. Carlson said, “I can’t think about the future. I can just live one day at a time and trust the Lord for that day.” The next day, they were told that they were going to be shot to death because of the bombardment in Banalia by Belgian and American paratroopers. The Simbas usually pointed their rifles on the hostages and left if anyone of them looked back.

On the morning of November 24, 1964, the Simba rebels throughout Stanleyville herded their hostages on the streets at the sound of he planes. The rebels were using the hostages as shields. Then, the rebels opened fire on their hostages. The hostages ran towards a wall and jumped over it. Dr. Carlson motioned to a fellow hostage to jump off the wall first. The fellow hostage, Charles Davis, successfully jumped over the wall and stretched his hands towards Dr. Carlson. But it was too late. Dr. Carlson fell back to the street, dead.

Some of the hostages were killed or wounded. Those who survived were taken away by the Belgians. Stanleyville was already liberated from the Simba rebels. Charles Davis, who survived the massacre, recalled, “By letting me go first, Paul died that I might live.”

Shoot those idiots who won't separate! (40 Seminarians)

“There were very many of them, a hundred it seemed to me. They entered our dormitory, the one of the three classes of the senior years, and they shot in the air four times to wake us up.... Immediately they began to threaten us, and moving between the beds they ordered us to separate, Hutus on one side and Tutsis on the other. They were armed to the teeth: rifles, grenades, pistols, and knives. But we stayed together as a group. Then their leader lost patience and gave the order: ‘Shoot these idiots who won't separate.’ They fired the first shots at the ones under the beds. As we lay in our blood, we prayed and begged pardon lot those who were killing us. I heard the voices of my companions who were saying, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Deep within, I uttered the same words and offered my life into God's hands.” This was the testimony of Jolique Rusimbamigera, a survivor of the massacre which happened on the dawn of April 30, 1997, in the minor seminary in Buta, Burundi.

Even before the massacre, the seminarians made it a point to live in Christian fraternity, despite their different racial backgrounds and the tribal war going on outside the seminary. For them, love of Christ and of their neighbors was more important than ethnic backgrounds. The seminarians had just finished an Easter retreat before they died. Fr. Nicolas Niyungeko, rector of the seminary in Bura, wrote of the seminarians, “At the end of the retreat, this class was enlivened by a new kind of spirit, which seemed to be a preparation for the holy death of these innocents. Full of rejoicing and joy, the word in their mouths was "God is good and we have met Him." They spoke of heaven as if they had just come from it, and of the priesthood as if they had just been ordained. One realized that something very strong had happened in their heart, without knowing exactly what it was. From that day on, they prayed, they sang, they danced to church, happy to discover, as it were, the treasure of Heaven.”

It was about five in the morning on April 30 when the rebels arrived the seminary. They went into the room and woke up the seminarians with sounds of gunshots. The seminarians became afraid and hid under their beds. “Separate yourselves!” they shout. “Hutus on one side and Tutsis on the other.” The students immediately understood what that meant. If they followed the rebels’ orders, their Tutsi classmates would be massacred in front of their eyes. They refused, remaining under the beds, as the rebels continued to shoot at them. When the students didn’t move, the rebels threatened to use machetes to kill all of them. The students crawled out from under the beds and moved, together, outside the dormitory. The students still refused to separate into two groups. Angry and willing to wait no longer, the rebels threw a grenade into their midst and shot them with their guns, killing 40 of them and wounding many others. One of the martyrs was a student who tried to bring his wounded friend to the hospital, but was killed on the way.

Jolique said that the martyrdom of his brothers was a miracle, everyone was prepared. To the question how he feels about the murderers, Jolique replied, “I pray that the sacrifice of the murdered students and our suffering will lead the soldiers who caused this suffering to their own conversion.”

I do not want to go and commit this sin (Anuarite Nengapeta)

On November 29, 1964, the Simba rebels went to the convent of the Holy Family Sisters and reassured the terrified sisters that they received orders from higher authorities to bring the sisters to a safer place. Quickly, the sisters prepared their baggage and joined the rebels. About four o'clock in the afternoon, the truck carrying the thirty-four sisters started off. While they recited the Rosary, the rebel soldiers sang ambiguous songs.

Arriving at Isiro, the community was led to the residence of Colonel Yuma Deo. That night, all the sisters, except for Sister Marie-Clementine Anuarite Nengapeta, were moved again, this time to a nearby house called “the blue house.” One of the Simba leaders, Colonel Ngalo, with the help of a soldier named Sigbande, tried to convince Anuarite to be his wife. Fearful but defiant, she categorically and repeatedly refused, even after the furious soldiers isolated her and threatened her with death. Mother Léontine attempted to defend her but in vain. Meanwhile, the other nuns in the blue house refused to eat without the presence of their mother superior. Colonel Pierre Olombe brought along sisters Banakweni and Marie-Lucie, to report the situation to Colonel Ngalo who asked for his help in seducing Anuarite. Sure of his success, Olombe accepted. At supper time, Anuarite shared a dish of rice and sardines with Mother Xavéria but could not eat much. She warned her sisters not to drink the beer provided by the Simbas because they were in mortal peril. She declared that she was ready to die defending her virginity. Later that night, Colonel Olombe, with a group of Simbas, sent the nuns to bed, allowing them to sleep in one room as long as Anuarite remained behind. Very troubled and anxious, Anuarite asked the mother superior to pray for her. Olombe again pressured her to yield to Ngalo's request. Then he changed his mind and decided he wanted Anuarite for himself. When she categorically refused, he hurled insults at her but she remained defiant.

Colonel Olombe forced the two sisters into the vehicle, but both of the nuns resisted. Sister Anuarite cried out, “I do not want to go and commit this sin; if you want, you can kill me!” Olombe then started to hit the two nuns savagely with the butt of his rifle. Sister Anwarite said to him, “I forgive you, because you do not know what you are doing.” With one arm broken and her face swollen, Sister Anwarite repeated before losing consciousness, “This is what I wanted.” The Simba who were witnesses of the scene, thinking that Olombe had lost his mind, took his rifle, but he, misunderstanding their action, cried out, “Simba! come quick, they want to kill me.” Two young Simbas came running, bayonnettes in hand. “Stab this sister, thrust the knife into her heart!” Four or five times or even more, they pierced her through, as she lay groaning. Olombe then took his revolver and shot a bullet into Sister Anwarite's chest, which was still breathing. She expired on December 1, 1964, at one o'clock in the morning. After the murder, Olombe calmed down and had Sister Bokuma transported to the hospital. The other religious were transferred under cover to Wamba.

At the end or rebellion, Colonel Olombe was imprisoned and sentenced to five years of imprisonment. After being released, he had nothing and came to the nuns for food,--the same nuns whom he had freed after killing their colleague in Isiro. Sister Léontine gave him what he requested saying, “Sister Marie-Clementine forgave you; we must follow her example.”

If i had the misfortune of denying God, I would die of grief (Maria de la Luz Camacho)

Maria de la Luz Camacho, a young single woman, was a member of the Franciscan Third Order. She was also the head of the Catholic Action in her parish. As early as the age of 15, she started teaching children catechism underground. She wanted to be called the “Maria of Coyoacan” after Mary, the sister of Martha, who was one of Jesus’ disciples. She worked tirelessly collecting clothes and funds for the poor, teaching catechism and literacy.

Maria was a young woman, very pretty and vibrant. She loved to act and put on plays. She loved to work with children and taught religion through the organization of the Catholic Action that provided religious formation for young children. She was extremely dedicated and many came to learn from her. She loved the Eucharist and took advantage of any opportunity she could to receive and to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. In 1932 the persecutions began again in Mexico and churches were being set on fire in protest of people practicing their faith. Catholics lived in fear. One night Maria dreamt that she had to choose between dying for her faith and being happy. Her friends asked her, what was her response in the dream and she responded, “God would give the grace to be faithful to him and besides, if I had the misfortune to deny God, I should die of grief.”

In December, 1934, Tomas Garrido Canabal, the former governor of Tabasco, sent young thugs to Coyoacan to burn down the church there. At that time, a children’s mass was going on in the church. On hearing the news, Maria dressed in her best garments. Together with her sister, she rushed to the church to protect it with her own body. The thugs, who were drunk, kept shouting blasphemies. Many people who saw how brave Maria was joined her in protecting the church.. One by one, the children inside the church escaped. A friend of hers asked her to leave, but she wouldn’t. They all began to shout, "Long live Christ the King! Long lives the Virgin of Guadalupe!" But the Reds charged and shouted, 'Long live the Revolution!" and a bullet was shot through her breast. It was reported that she died with peace on her face on the steps of the Church she loved with her life.

Shortly before the firing began, a young man approached the young woman standing so fearlessly in front of the church. "Miss Camacho, please go to safety," he begged with tears in his eyes. He risked censure from his companions, but wasn't this the same lady who, misguided thought she was, had prepared him so lovingly and carefully for his First Communion? Truly, God was only a myth, but Miss Camacho had been kind. He could not bear the thought of killing her, even if her foolish beliefs led her to take such a stand against the power of the state. "Please leave," he begged. Maria refused his tearful request with sad reproachfulness in her beautiful eyes. There were children in the church, and time must be bought for their safety. Her brave stance indicated that any who entered the church with evil intent would do so only over her dead body.

Thousands of people came to her wake. She had been laid on a bed of flowers and the priest who had known her so well told the people not to cry and reminded them that she had entered heaven and was now interceding for them. She was a martyr. The archbishop of Mexico, His Excellency D. Pascal Diaz Barreto said at her funeral, “Hail to the first martyr of the Catholic action!” “Hail,” the crowd repeated, “Viva Cristo Rey!” Maria lived the motto of the Mexican Catholic Action to the fullest, “Apostolate, Eucharist, and Bravery.”

Spare those who have wives and children (Eleven Nuns)

In June, 1941, the Soviet-controlled village of Nowogrodek fell into the hands of the Nazis. The most immediate act of the Nazis was to take the Jews and kill them. The twelve Sisters of the Holy Family were allowed to put their religious habits on, since they were not allowed to do so during the Soviet occupation of the village. They were once again allowed to enter their convent, which had been bombed by the Soviets. But the killings of the Jews never stopped in Nowogrodek. As the Jews were being slaughtered in the center of the town, a band played a Johann Strauss’ waltz. Next to the Jews, the Communist sympathizers were killed.

In July 1943, life became increasing difficult and violence resumed. Arrests followed. Because of their sympathies and work amongst those detained and sentenced to death, the sisters had come to the attention of the Gestapo.

Situations worsened on July 25, 1943, when a group of men were arrested by the Gestapo. The prisoners were sentenced to die. The sisters all expressed their desires to give their lives for the safety of the men. Together, they prayed, “O God, if sacrifice of life is needed, accept it from us who are free from family obligations. Spare those who have wives and children.” Almost immediately, the Nazis changed their lans and sent the prisoners to concentration camps, and the prayers of the nuns were accepted. When the life of the rector was threatened, the Sisters renewed their offering saying, “There is a greater need for a priest on this earth than for us. We pray that God will take us in his place, if sacrifice of life is needed.”

On July 31, a Nazi civilian approached Mother Stella, the superior of the community, and told her that the nuns were to report to the comissar’s office. Mother Stella feared the worse, but she and her sisters reported to the office, with the exception of Sr. Malgorzata, who chose to stay with the priest and pray. After going to the office, the nuns were seen no more.

A few days after the disappearance of the nuns, Sr. Malgorzata dressed in civilian clothing and went to the woods, where she saw that digging had gone recently. There, she saw her eleven sisters, all shot to death. Their bodies were exhumed after the war.

Finally, because of some witnesses, what happened to the sisters was known. The sisters, after reporting to the barracks, were kept in a small room. That night, they were loaded into a truck and brought to the woods. But because of the shepherds staying that night, the Nazis went back and kept the nuns in the basement of the church and waited for the shepherds to leave. When they have left, the Nazis once again brought the sisters to the woods and shot them to death nearby a grave. It was said that on the next day, a drunk soldier kept repeating, “You should have seen how they went, those sisters.”

She offered herself consciously to the holocaust (Maria Skobtsova)

When Paris fell to the Nazis, Maria Skobtsova, an Orthodox nun from Russia, joined some colleagues in preparing and dispatching food parcels and funds to families of more than a thousand Russian émigrés who were imprisoned by the Nazis. She also hid Jews and forged documents for them. Although the danger to her personal safety increased daily, she never stopped helping those who needed it most, including many Jews. As the persecution and imprisonment of the Jews in Paris grew, Mother Maria helped to smuggle in food to those already in the camps. Eventually, she became involved with the Jewish Resistance in Paris.

In 1942, 6,900 Jews were rounded up and kept for five days in Paris’ sports stadium. Mother Maria managed to enter the stadium and, with the help of some garbage collectors, smuggled out several Jewish children out in garbage bins.

Because she was so well known in Paris as a defender of the poor and persecuted, and because of her defiant attitude toward the Nazis, it was perhaps inevitable that Mother Maria herself was finally arrested and later imprisoned. In response to the accusation that Mother Maria was helping Jews, her mother, Sophia, told the Gestapo, “My daughter is a genuine Christian, and for her there is neither Greek nor Jew, only individuals in distress. If you were threatened by some disaster, she would help you too.” Arrested with her were Iura, her son from a previous marriage, and Father Klepinin, an Orthodox priest who was Mother Maria’s chaplain.

Mother Maria was brought to Ravensbruck concentration camp, a camp for women. Working alongside other inmates she endured great physical hardship that took its toll on her health, and eventually resulted in her death. Yet throughout it all, she remained steadfast, true to her calling, and uncompromising in her love for God and her fellow human beings.

Finally, Maria, her health broken, could no longer pass the roll call on Good Friday in 1945. She was killed in the gas chamber on the next day, Holy Saturday. She voluntarily went to the gas chambers in order to prepare her companions for death. On Easter Sunday, the day after her death, Ravensbruck was liberated by the International Red Cross.
A witness said about Mother Maria, “She offered herself consciously to the holocaust . . . Thus assisting each one of us to accept the cross . . . She radiated the peace of God and communicated it to us.”

The angel of Dachau (Engelmar Unzeitig)

Engelmar Unzeitig, a newly-ordained Marianhill priest, was arrested by the Nazis for defending the Jews in his sermons. In 1941, he was deported to Dachau, a concentration camp for political prisoners. Dachau itself was called the “largest monastery in the world” because of the great number of priests deported there during the war. There, Catholic and Protestant prisoners united and prayed together and helped each other.

Despite the hellish atmosphere in Dachau, Fr. Engelmar regarded it as a school of holiness. He once wrote to his sister, “What sometimes appear as misfortune is often the greatest fortune. How much a person learns only through experience in the school of life? We should feel and experience for others, I think, the lack of peace in the world and help them to true peace. Then we are not surprised if God takes from us some tings which are dear and precious to us.”

When not engaged in labor, he would help and encouraged the other prisoners, especially the Russian Communists. He gained their trust and developed a friendship with them.

He survived four years in the camp, but he might have survived more years in the camp, had it not been for a terrible outbreak of typhoid. Those who were infected were sent to a special barrack, where they were left to die without dignity. A call went out for volunteers who would take care of the sick prisoners. Twenty priests stepped forward, including Fr. Engelmar.

The priests who volunteered knew that they won’t get out of the barracks alive. All but two prisoners died while taking care of the sick. In the seemingly God-forsaken place, the priests brought the presence of God and administered to the sick the sacraments. The guards would not enter the barracks, so the priests found the place as a haven to practice their religion.

Witnesses testified to Fr. Engelmar as an “angel of mercy” who poured out himself in tireless service to his companions. Within six weeks in the barracks, he contacted the typhoid. Still, he continued hearing confessions. He died on March 2, 1945, the day after his thirty-fourth birthday. A few weeks later, the Americans liberated the camp.

I will go for her (Marianna Biernacka)

Before the Nazi occupation of Poland, Adolf Hitler is said to have authorized his commanders to kill “without pity or mercy, all men, women, and children of Polish decent or language. Only in this way can we obtain the living space we need.” During their occupation of Poland, the Gestapo would round up and kill Polish civilians in retaliation for any Germans killed by the resistance.

In July 1943, the Nazis conducted a mass arrest in the city of Lipsk as an act of reprisal for the Germans who were killed during the resistance. The names of Stanislaw Biernacka, together with his pregnant wife Anna, were in the list of those who were going to be killed. The Biernacka family were never politically active and poorly educated. Hence you can imagine their deep surprise when German soldiers knocked at their door to arrest Stanislaw and Anna Biernacka.

Early in the morning, the armed soldiers came to arrest Stanislaw and Anna. Stanislaw’s fifty-five-year-old mother, Marianna, fell on her knees and asked the Nazis to take her instead of Anna. Marianna was a simple woman, for whom God and his laws are the most important value, even more important than freedom. She said as the soldiers were taking the couple, “She is already in the last weeks of her pregnancy. I will go for her.” At first, Anna objected. But Marianna told her, “You are young, you must live.” The Nazis released Anna and took Marianna together with her son to the prison in Grodno.

According to witnesses, Marianna spent her time in prayer. While in prison, she requested for a rosary and a pillow. A parcel was sent to her, but it was not known if the parcel reached her. On July 13, 1943, she was shot to death together with her son and 48 other people in Naumowicze, near Grodno. Marianna Biernacka’s selfless sacrifice saved the life of her daughter-in-law and her grandchild.

You act according to the orders of men, but we act according to the orders of God (SongKhon Villagers)

Catholics in Thailand were persecuted in the thirties up to the forties during the Franco-Thai war. The Catholic religion was seen as a French religion and an enemy to the nation. Many Thai Catholics were forced to renounce their faith. Persecution was especially strong in Songkhon, a Catholic village near the Mekong River. When the police came there, the French parish priest was expelled. Two nuns, Sisters Agnes Phila and Lucia Khambang, and a catechist, Philip Siphong Onphitak, felt responsible for Catholic community and were in charge of the village school.

Philip gave both moral and physical support to the worried people by visiting each house, praying with each family and speaking words of encouragement and strengthening their faith. The police were naturally furious at this act of rebelliousness and decided to get rid of Philip. So in early December 1940 the police sent a letter to Philip supposedly from the Sheriff of Mukdahan, requesting him to go to Mukdahan to meet the Sheriff. The people were suspicious and they warned Philip about the false letter and not to trust the police. They also told Philip that the police had every intention of killing him. However this good man told the people that if that was the case, then he would be ready to die for his faith. Eventually he set out with the police for Mukdahan. Actually when they got the poor man into the forest, the police shot him dead. It was December 16, 1940.
The Catholics in the area felt greater fear and persecution after the loss of Philip, whm they called “the great tree.” The police fired their guns in the air, threatening to kill the Christians. But there are two more pillars left to support the Church in Songkhon, Sisters Agnes Phila and Lucia Khambang. The two sisters run the parochial school and continue to teach the children in the village catechism. They felt that their time to sacrifice their lives for the love of God is drawing near.

The two nuns were ordered not to wear their religious habits, and the two agreed since the reason given to them was that the religious habit is wore only by Europeans and the country is in a state of war. The sisters agreed, but they did not renounce their faith and they continued teaching the children catechism.

On Christmas day, the policemen passed by the convent of the sisters. They caught them teaching children catechism. Lu, the chief police, told the sisters, “I have told you many times not to speak about Jesus. You must not mention God in Thailand, otherwise I will kill you all!”
Sister Agnes said to him, “Mr. Policeman, do you mean to say that you will kill us all because we are Catholics and loyal to our Catholic Faith. Do you really mean that, Mr. Policeman?"

Lu replied, “Yes, I do. I will kill all of you if you continue to talk about God like this.”

Sister Agnes exclaimed, “Be sure you have enough guns and bullets then!”

"Oh yes," rejoined Lu, "we have enough guns and bullets to kill all of you."

Then be sure you polish the barrels of your guns lest the bullets get stuck," countered Sister Agnes

"We will." And the police left them.

Later that day, the police gathered all villagers to the Church. They were told that they were given orders from higher authorities to kill whoever will not renounce their faith. A sixteen-year-old girl, Cecilia Butsi stood up and said, “I am willing to die for my faith!” Cecilia assisted Agatha Phutta, the cook of the sisters, in the convent kitchen. Cecilia was reprimanded by her mother for her boldness, and she, together with other girls, later went with the sisters to the convent.

That night, Sister Lucia became ill. She became restless and fearful. She felt that the moment for her witnessing had already come. She dressed in her religious habit. Sister Agnes felt moment for her to give testimony to her faith is already drawing near. She dressed in her religious habit and wrote a letter to the police in behalf of Sr. Lucia and the other girls in the convent. She wrote:

“We ask you to carry out the order on us....Please delay no longer.... Please carry out the order. We are ready to give back our lives to God who has given them to us. We do not wish to be preys of the devils. Please carry out the order. Open the door of heaven for us so that we may confirm that outside the religion of Christ no one can go to heaven. Please do it. We are well prepared. When we are gone, we will remember you. Take pity on our souls. We will be grateful to you for it. On the last day, we will see each other face to face.”

The two sisters, Agatha Phutta, and the other girls spent the whole night praying and preparing themselves for martyrdom. Some girls with the sisters left out of fear of being killed, while two girls, Bibiana Khampai, 15, and Maria Phon, 14,voluntarily went to the convent the next day to die as martyrs. Some girls were sent by their parents to the sisters to die as martyrs. One of the girls said, “By the time I arrived, I saw Sr. Agnes, Sr. Lucia, Cecilia Butsi, Bibiana Khampai, Cecilia Suvan and, Maria Phon all in prayer.”

At three in the afternoon, the police came to the convent and asked those in it to renounce their faith. Everyone refused. So, they were taken to the cemetery and shot to death. Two girls were saved. One was taken away by her father and another one escaped when she was not hit by bullets. Before the women were shot, Sister Agnes said to the policemen, “You may kill us but you cannot kill the Church and you cannot kill God. One day the Church will return to Thailand and will flourish more than ever. You will see with your own eyes that what I am now saying will come true. So we thank you from our hearts for killing us and sending us to Heaven. From there we will pray for you.” The martyrs died praying and singing hymns. Six martyrs died that day. They were the nuns; Agatha Phutta, the convent cook; Cecilia Butsi; Bibiana Khampai and Maria Phon, teenage girls.

On October 22, 1989, Pope John Paul II formally beatified the seven Thai Catholics. Deeply touched by their fidelity, the pope said that Blessed Philip Siphong exemplified the missionary zeal that is incumbent upon all of us by virtue of our baptism. He quoted Sister Agnes' letter to the policeman, “We rejoice in giving back to God the life that He has given us.... We beseech you to open to us the doors of heaven… You are acting according to the orders of men, but we act according to the commandments of God.” Sentiments like these, said John Paul II, resembled those of the early Christian martyrs.

We all came to China to bring you the good news of salvation of Jesus Christ (Missionaries in Shansi)

In March, 1900, the empress appointed Yu Hsien, a Boxer supporter and an anti-Christian, as the government of the Shansi province in Northern China. Yu Hsien told the people to accuse the Christians of false crimes. But no one did what the governor told them, since the Christians and the missionaries are good people. Since the people were reluctant to do so, Yu Hsien allied himself with the Boxers. Yu Hsien made this proclamation, “The European religion is wicked and cruel, it despises the spirit and oppresses people. All (Chinese) Christians who do not sincerely repudiate it will be executed ...Christians, hear and tremble! Give up this perverse religion! Let all Christians fear and obey: the Boxers will not hurt persons - it is this religion they hate.”

When Yu Hsien was appointed as the governor of Shansi, Franciscan Bishop Gregory Grassi became concerned for the lives of the nuns working in the Catholic mission. But Mother Hermine, the superior of the nuns, told him, “Excellency, for the love of God, do not stop us from dying with you. We fear neither death nor the tortures with which the governor’s rage threaten us. We came here to practice charity and to shed, if need be, our blood for the love of Jesus Christ.” All seven were prepared for their martyrdom. In one of her letters home, one of the nuns, Sister Marie Amandine Jeuris, wrote, “The news is not good, danger is approaching, but we are peaceful. We are in God’s hands. May His holy will be done. When this letter reaches you, perhaps we may already be dead. But rest assured that before we go, we have already offered our lives and our health for the non-Christians. When we came, we knew we would have to suffer. I am neither worried nor sad. I confide myself to God’s care and I pray him to console and fortify the martyrs and those who have to suffer for His name.”

Concerned for the future of the seminarians, Bishop Grassi closed the seminary and ordered the seminarians to return to their homes and save their lives for priesthood. On their way home, five were arrested by the Boxers. They were asked to renounce their faith, but they refused. Because of this, a “canga” (a heavy wood which is placed around the neck, an instrument of torture) was placed around their necks and they were insulted the whole night. The next day, they were released. They returned to the missionaries and refused to leave them anymore, wishing to die with them as martyrs.

On June 27 the Boxers burned the compounds of the Protestant missionaries. The missionaries, together with other native Christians, sought refuge in a Baptist school some miles away. After reaching the school, one of the missionaries, Edith Coombs, realized that she left to schoolgirls in the burning compound. She returned and took the two girls away. After coming outside, Ms. Coombs was pushed back into the house. The two girls saw the missionary burn to death.

There were thirty-two missionaries in the missionary school. With them were native Christians who were too loyal to leave them. Everyday, stones were thrown to the school and insults were hurled to the refugees of the school. They all waited for protection from the governor.

On July 5, the Catholic missionaries, together with a group of Chinese servants, an old woman and some orphans, were arrested. They were herded in a building, which was nearby Yu Hsien’s house, called “Inn of Heavenly Peace.” The missionaries were allowed to say mass. The seminarians would go in the courtyard and play games. One of the priests reprimanded them and asked them to pray and prepare themselves for martyrdom. One of the semiarians, the fifteen-year-old John Wang, said, “Aren’t we going to paradise?”

On the afternoon of July 9, a great crowd was gathered in the palace of Yu Hsien. A great event is going to happen. Then, a group of Protestant missionaries, together with some of their children, were led into the court. Mr. Farthing, an English Baptist missionary, led the group. His wife clung to him, but he set her aside and went forth to the executioners. He was finished with one strike of a sword. The four other missionaries followed him. Yu Hsien got impatient and ordered the soldiers to help the Boxers in killing the missionaries. Three more male missionaries were killed.

What happened next was a moving scene. After the men were killed, the executioners took the women and their children. Mrs. Farthing had hold of the hands of her children who clung to her, but the soldiers parted them, and with one blow beheaded their mother. The executioner beheaded all the children and did it skillfully, needing only one blow, but the soldiers were clumsy, and some of the ladies suffered several cuts before death. Mrs. Lovitt was wearing her spectacles and held the hand of her little boy, even when she was killed. She spoke to the people, saying, “We all came to China to bring you the good news of the salvation by Jesus Christ; we have done you no harm, only good. Why do you treat us so?” A soldier took off her spectacles before beheading her.

Next, the Catholics were brought in. Bishop Grassi gave a general absolution to all those who were imprisoned, in order to prepare them before they die. A mock trial was performed, where Yu Hsien asked the missionaries about Christianity and their mission. Bishop Francis Fogolla, on behalf of the other missionaries, said, “We never wronged anyone. On the contrary, we have done good to many.”

After hearing this answer, Yu Hsien hit Bishop Fogolla with his fist and shouted, “Kill them! Kill them!” The soldiers stormed in immediately and brutally dragged the victims out in front of the governor's court; they drew blood with their swords and savagely carried out the executions, with more or less cruelty depending on their skill, the sharpness of their weapons, and the hatred that motivated them. Bishop Grassi and Bishop Fogolla were the first to fall, then the missionaries, the seminarians and the laymen. While they were carrying out their butchery, the nuns braced themselves awaiting their turn. Having removed their veils, they covered their faces, leaving their necks bare for the executioners to cut them off. The youngest nun, Sister Maria della Pace, started chanting the “Te Deum”, which was then followed by the other nuns. Sr. Maria della Pace, only twenty-four, had already experienced persecutions under her father, who had a very difficult character and would not tolerate any religious practice. Her mother, who suffered very much under her father, died when Sister Maria was still ten, and her father abandoned them. The nuns, after seeing the massacre, were then beheaded.

Then, Mr. Pigott, and his party were led from the district jail which is close by. He was still handcuffed, and so was Mr. Robinson, another missionary. He preached to the people to the very last, when he was beheaded with one blow. Mr. Robinson suffered death very calmly. Mrs. Pigott held the hand of her son, even when she was beheaded, and he was killed immediately after her. The ladies and two girls were also killed. The last to be killed were a group of lay people. At the end, the Boxers, fearing vengeance, fired their guns into the air to put any spirits to flight. The martyrs all died calmly, except for the children who cried in pain. According to a witness, what shocked him most was to see the nuns sing while they were being killed.

While the massacre was taking place, a blood-red globe was seen from the distant city of Tsetinfu—200 km. away—in the direction of Taiyuan, emitting several flashes of light which changed continuously into balls of fire. Another witness reported that as she and the other Christians were praying, they heard a beautiful music and an orderly row of banners came towards them from Taiyuan, where the missionaries were killed. They took this as a sign that the missionaries had been killed and they encouraged each other, thinking that their time to die would also come. The next day, the soldiers announced that the missionaries had been killed.

The remains of the martyrs of Shansi, after being mocked by the Boxers, the soldiers and the mob until the late evening, were flung into a common pit by the city walls, near the Eastern Gate.

When the news of their tragic deaths reached Rome Sept. 22, Mother Mary of the Passion, the foundress of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, tearfully announced it to the community, “The house of Taiyuan has been destroyed and all the sisters killed. They are now my Seven Sorrows and Seven Joys. Now I can truly say that we have seven genuine Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.”

When the remains of the martyrs were exhumed, it is said that the earth was covered with a white blanket of snow, so that the new governor, impressed by such a sight, announced, “These foreigners were really good people, heaven itself is taking part in their funeral.”