"Let Us Be Their Followers."
Today we celebrate the feast of several of the Dominican Order’s martyrs in the Far East. Francis de Capillas, a Spanish Dominican, labored for a number of years in the Philippines before going to China in 1642. When he and his fellow Dominican missionary priests arrived in Fogan, they were initially heard and received warmly by the people, and there were numerous conversions to the Christian faith. But shifts in the winds of politics soon changed that. As the ruling dynasty was being wiped out by ruthless and invading Tartars, to try and save themselves, they cast suspicions in the Christians and the missionaries. Soon, persecution began.
While Father Francis and his superior, Father Garcia, were in hiding, they received word that one of their flock was dying. Father Francis asked Father Garcia for permission to cross “enemy” lines and go to him, which Father Garcia granted. All began well - Father Francis made it in time to the dying man and gave him his last Sacraments before he passed away. But as Father Francis was headed back, he was captured by a roving band of Tartars.
The ruling mandarins tried everything to get Father Francis to renounce the Faith. He was tortured by having his feet slowly crushed. When the mandarin saw his unwavering resolution, he demanded to know the secret of his love for suffering. Father Francis responded, “My body suffers, but my soul rejoices, for in suffering there is a likeness between me and Christ.”
Father Francis was then thrown in prison with the roughest criminals. The Christians provided him with food, drink and blankets and clothing, as winter was coming. Most of the food and drink he gave away to his fellow prisoners and he shared his blanket with two of the filthiest prisoners in their cell. His example and words converted so many of his fellow prisoners and caused the jailors to show him leniency and kindness. When the mandarin heard of this, he was once more infuriated and had Father Francis flogged with bamboo reeds so hard, he could hardly move for three days.
Eventually there was again a shift of political power, but the death of the mandarin and rise of a new leader did not change Father Francis’ situation. Instead, the Christians were again implicated and the new viceroy issued the order for Father Francis’ execution. When Father Francis heard the news, he turned to his friends and flock. "Dwell together in peace, my friends," said Francis with triumph in his voice. "I go now to my death."
The saint was led out to a nearby hill. Here he was like Jesus stripped of his garments save only his stockings which could not be removed because of the horrible condition of his crushed and blood-caked feet. His hands were bound behind his back, and he knelt peacefully to receive the blow of the executioner's sword on January 15, 1648.
Blessed Francis was the first martyr of the Order in China. In the following century, several Spanish Dominicans were martyred at Foochow including Bishop Peter Sanz on May 26, 1747; and on October 28, 1748, Bishop Francis Serrano along with the priests Joachim Royo, John Alcober and Francisco Diaz.
Martyrs of China, pray for us!