A young girl’s heart is often full of tender romantic notions, some of which become soiled by the harsh realities of life. But what if her romance is with God? In the case of seven young Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who fell in love with Christ, their hearts grew more generous and loving, expanding even as they faced certain death.
Sister Marie de St. Natalie, 35; Sister Hermine de Jesus, 33; Sister Marie de St. Just, 33; Sister Marie Adolphina, 33; Sister Marie Amandine, 27; Sister Maria Chiara, 26; and Sister Maria della Pace, 24, all left the shores of Europe in March of 1899 to sail to the Diocese of Shanxi, China, where they were sent to care for sick and orphaned children. Most of them came from poor families, and several had lost one or both parents themselves. They willingly opened their arms to embrace these tiny foundlings, completely understanding their loneliness and fears, though knowing full well the hazards they would face in doing so.
The sisters withstood the constant difficulties of extreme poverty, poor sanitary conditions, a lack of medicine, and the threat of anti-Christian fanaticism. Through it all they served with humility and joy, creating a community driven by love. “With tact, patience and creativity, they entered little by little into this new and complex world, and applied themselves with love and tenacity to improving the quality of life of all. One year after their arrival, on 4th May 1900, the house was blossoming out.” (www.fmm.glauco.it)
But China was beginning to erupt in political violence at the same time. The Boxer Rebellion, an uprising of Chinese nationalists, brought about an edict on July 1, 1900 which called for all foreigners to be killed or deported. When given the option by the bishop to leave, the sisters refused, with Sister Maria Chiara saying: “Monsignor, flee? No. We came to give our lives for God if needs be!”
On July 5, 1900, her prophetic words began to come true. The seven young sisters were kidnapped, along with two bishops, two priests and a brother, by rioting militants. Though aware of their probable fate, when dragged before the Chinese tribunal four days later they were praying and singing the Te Deum. The governor quickly grew angry with the small group and ordered them executed at once. The young sisters were reserved for last, forced to watch their male counterparts being massacred. Finally they, too, were beheaded, one by one, reborn into the heaven which they had tried to create on earth.
Saints and our lives
“How good is our God! I wish to understand this and conform my life to this knowledge.” (Sister Marie de St. Just)
In a world where we are hard-pressed to find true goodness, whether in other people’s motives and actions or our own sinful natures, it is comforting to realize that our God is the epitome of all good. There is no duplicity in our Lord, no hint of evil, no need to wonder if He really has our best interest at heart. Imagine some of the good things we can experience in this life: loving relationships, a meaningful conversation, a radiant sunrise, a beautiful melody, a sacrifice made for you by another; yet even these cannot compare with the goodness inherent in God. Because God is ever good, never changing, we can trust Him in all things. Sister Marie de St. Just based her life on this understanding, nestled always in her Father’s arms.
Each of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters realized that they were journeying to a dangerous apostolate, and each in one way or another expressed her readiness to give her life for their mission. Sister. Maria Chiara wrote: “The Lord Jesus will be able to give me the grace to make my sacrifice courageously...in spite of all I am ready for the moment when Jesus will call me.” James 5:8 tells us: “Be also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Establish your hearts — here is the answer! Each sister had her heart firmly set in Christ, rooted and grounded in His grace. Their lives of prayer, good works, meditation on Scripture and awareness of God in their daily rounds gave them the ability to banish fear and replace it with love. Although we may never be called to a foreign mission or to martyrdom, we all are called to establish our hearts in Christ. We each have unique opportunities for prayer and good works in our lives. We can learn from these young women who knew the secret of a faith-filled existence:
Establish your heart on the Cross of Christ!
Taken from “Evangelization and the Lives of the Saints: Martyred Sisters of Shanxi” produced by the diocesan Office of New Evangelization. For the complete pamphlet, visit the Office of New Evangelization at www.drvc.org.