NEWS STORY: Pope Names Drexel, Chinese Martyrs New Saints

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY _ Putting aside a bitter attack by Beijing and ignoring rainy weather, Pope John Paul II elevated 120 Chinese martyrs, Philadelphia heiress Katharine Drexel, a former slave from Sudan and the Basque founder of a nursing order to sainthood Sunday (Oct. 1) at an outdoor Mass attended by 100,000 pilgrims.

The Roman Catholic pontiff praised the new saints as “models of sanctity” and linked their canonizations to appeals for an end to conflict in Sudan and Spain’s northern Basque country. He praised Drexel for combating “all forms of racism” and said Josephine Bakhita, known as “the holy slave,” showed victimized women the way to “genuine emancipation.”

The 80-year-old John Paul, wearing green and gold vestments, concelebrated the three-hour Mass with 53 green-robed prelates, including Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia , Archbishop Francis Schulte of New Orleans and the Rev. Giovanni Munari, an Italian priest who was Bakhita’s confessor.

Among the pilgrims sitting under a sea of umbrellas on long rows of plastic chairs set up on the cobblestones of St. Peter’s Square, were some 3,500 who traveled to Rome from the United States.

There were some 1,500 pilgrims from Philadelphia, a delegation of Native Americans and the band of Xavier College in New Orleans, which Drexel established as America’s first Catholic institute of higher learning for African-Americans.

Responding to charges last week by the Chinese Foreign Ministry that the 87 Chinese and 33 foreign missionaries elevated to sainthood were “criminals” and “enemies of the Chinese people,” the pope said the church ceremony was “not the time to make judgments” about the historical context of their martyrdoms.

“It could be and should be done in other circumstances,” he said. “Today, in this solemn proclamation of sainthood, the church only intends to recognize that those martyrs are an example of courage and coherence for all of us and give honor to the noble Chinese people.”

China, however, refused to let up in its criticism.

Wire reports from Beijing on Sunday quoted Bishop Fu Tieshan of the state-recognized Catholic church as calling the canonizations a “distortion of history” and “a public humiliation we cannot accept.”

The new saints, who include children as young as 9 and 11, were martyred between 1648 and 1930, well before the Communists took power in 1949. Many died in the Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1900 in which xenophobic peasants slaughtered 30,000 Chinese converts to Christianity along with missionaries and other foreigners.

John Paul in his homily singled out two Chinese teen-agers martyred for refusing to deny their faith under torture and the threat of death. Anna Wang, 14, was decapitated and Chi Zhuzi, 18, had his right arm cut off and was then skinned alive.

Defending the missionaries, the pope said their tombs in China signified “their definitive belonging to China which, even with their human limitations, they sincerely loved, and for which they spent their strength.”

Drexel, who founded the order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891, is the fifth U.S. saint but only the second who was born in America, following Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton of Baltimore. The other American saints are Mother Frances Cabrini, Bishop John Neumann and Sister Rose Philippine Duchesne.

The daughter of an international banker, Drexel was born in 1858 and became a nun at age 30. She founded the order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and invested her fortune of some $20 million in establishing some 60 schools, missions and other services for Indians and African-Americans.

“Her apostolate helped to bring about a growing awareness of the need to combat all forms of racism through education and social services,” the pope said. “Katharine Drexel is an excellent example of that practical charity and generous solidarity with the less fortunate which has long been the distinguishing mark of American Catholics.”

Several U.S. parishes also sent delegations to the Mass to honor Bakhita, some of whose relics have been placed in the Heritage Chapel of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Born in Darfur in Sudan in 1869, Bakhita was kidnapped and sold into slavery at the age of 7. She was rescued at the age of 16 by an Italian diplomat, who took her to Italy’s northern Veneto region where she became a nursemaid, received religious instruction and entered the order of the Canossian Sisters of Charity.

“In today’s world,” John Paul said, “countless women continue to be victimized, even in developed modern societies. In St. Josephine Bakhita, we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation.”

The life of the new saint should inspire “not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights,” he said.

The pope called for prayers to Bakhita on behalf of “all our persecuted and enslaved brothers and sisters, especially in African and her native Sudan that they may know reconciliation and peace.”

Deploring the “cruel war” that has rent Sudan for 17 years and shows little sign of ending, John Paul said, “In the name of suffering humanity, I appeal once more to those with responsibility: open your hearts to the cries of millions of innocent victims and embrace the path of negotiation.

“I plead with the international community,” he said. “Do not continue to ignore this immense human tragedy.”

St. Mary Joseph of the Heart of Jesus Sancho Guerra, founder of the nursing order of the Servants of Jesus of Charity, is the first Basque to be canonized. The order, which helps to care for AIDS patients, is active in 13 countries in Europe and Latin America.

Speaking in Basque, the pope appealed in her name for an end the long civil conflict between ETA nationalist guerrillas and Spanish authorities in the Basque country, Euskadi in the Basque language.

“May the example and the intercession of St. Mary Joseph help the Basque people to leave aside violence forever, and may Euskadi be a blessed land and a place of peace and brotherly living together where the rights of all people may be respected and where never again may innocent blood be shed,” he said.

The process leading to sainthood can take centuries but was unusually swift for the three nuns, who lived into the 20th century. Drexel died in 1955, Bakhita in 1947 and Sancho Guerra in 1912.


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