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DIVINE WORD MISSIONER SET TO BECOME FIRST CONFESSOR SAINT IN CHINA

Updated: January 12, 2003 05:00 PM GMT
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A Divine Word missioner who helped develop the Church in eastern China almost from scratch is scheduled to be canonized this year.

With his canonization, Blessed Joseph Freinademetz, one of the two earliest Divine Word missioners to China, would become the 122nd saint in China and the first who is not a martyr, according to Bishop Joseph Wang Yu-jung of Taichung, central Taiwan. Such a non-martyr saint is often called a confessor.

The existing 121 saints in China include the 120 martyrs canonized in 2000, and Joannes Gabriel Perboyre, canonized in 1996, Bishop Wang told UCA News Jan. 9. In 2000, the bishop was head of the Taiwan bishops´ Commission for Canonization of Saints and Martyrs of China.

Blessed Freinademetz (1852-1908) came from the Tyrolean Alps in central Europe and earned himself the title "Mother of the Church in South Shandong" because of his nurturing apostolate work among the Chinese.

Bishop Zhao Fengchang of Yanggu and Linqing, Shandong province, told UCA News Jan. 8 that Blessed Freinademetz, whose Chinese name is Fu Ruoshi and who is known as Blessed Joseph of Shandong, was a man "well respected by the Chinese a century ago inside and outside the Church for his missionary works."

Yanggu, 440 kilometers south of Beijing, was where Blessed Freinademetz´s missionary zeal turned the Church from a group of just 158 Catholics in the 1890s to a community of 106,000 Catholics and 44,000 catechumens by 1924, according to a report prepared by the Divine Word Society.

Father Paulino Suo Pao-lun, former head of the society´s Chinese province, told UCA News Jan. 9 Blessed Freinademetz baptized his grandparents in 1890.

Father Suo, who was born in Shandong province, is now 80 and lives in Taipei. He said that on a dozen visits to Shandong in past decades, Catholics there talked about "Blessed Joseph." He also said they are happy to know that he is to be canonized, "for they have prayed for it in the past 90 years and every day."

Yanggu is also the native diocese of the first Chinese cardinal, Thomas Tien Keng-hsin (Tian Gengxin), who was bishop of Yanggu 1934-1939. Father Suo pointed out that "Cardinal Tien was certainly influenced by Blessed Joseph, who was vicar general and provincial when Tien was a seminarian."

Father Suo does not think Blessed Freinademetz´s canonization may spark the kind of Biejing-Vatican row that erupted in 2000 because the blessed "is not a martyr" and his canonization "does not touch the nerve of Beijing."

Bishop Zhao, 69, agrees the Chinese government will not react negatively since Blessed Freinademetz was highly respected by the Chinese people. Still, he admits that today´s young and new Catholics know little about the missioner, even if the diocese continues to commemorate him.

Pope John Paul recognized a miracle attributed to Blessed Freinademetz on Dec. 20 at a ceremony in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. That act of recognition opened the door to his canonization.

Pope Paul VI beatified him in 1975, together with Father Arnold Janssen (1837-1909), founder of the Divine Word Society. The two are scheduled to be canonized together in 2003.

Blessed Freinademetz was born in 1852 and ordained a priest in 1875. He was sent in 1879 to Hong Kong, where he worked for two years before moving to Shandong. He and his confrere John Baptist Anzer became the earliest Divine Word missioners in the China mainland.

In 1882, upon arriving in the extreme western part of Shandong province, they faced local resistance because anyone having anything to do with "foreign devils or their foreign sect" in those days was subject to severe punishment.

In time, the blessed and other missioners set up a Divine Word province, a language center for new missioners and a laity formation center in southern Shandong, ancestral home of Chinese sage Confucius and his disciple Mencius.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, told the pope while presenting the miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Freinademetz that the missioner "passionately loved the Chinese." The cardinal quoted the priest as writing, "I love China and the Chinese. I wish to die among them and to be buried in their midst."

"It happened exactly as he wished," Cardinal Martins pointed out, referring to the fact that Blessed Freinademetz died in a Shandong village in 1909 at the age of 56, after contracting typhus while attending to plague victims.

In an article on Divine Word missions in China, Father Suo said that Blessed Freinademetz identified himself with Chinese culture to show his love of China. He wrote to his parents in Europe, "I wore a tip of beard, a small tip of beard -- just like the joker in playing cards. I have my head bald, exactly a Chinese, tied with a plait."

Blessed Freinademetz wrote elsewhere, "Love is the only language everyone understands," and "I want to be a Chinese in heaven." He also asserted that Chinese moral values, especially filial piety, diligence and moderation, deserve deep respect and appreciation.

When Blessed Freinademetz was rector, Chinese seminarians had to study Chinese literature to appreciate their own culture, according to Father Suo.

Father Suo told UCA News that the exact date of the canonization has yet to be announced, but whenever it happens, the Divine Word Society in Taiwan will celebrate the event with festivities and evangelization activities.

In Taiwan, an activity center on Alishan (Ali Mountain) in Chiayi diocese and a small chapel in Hsinchu diocese are dedicated to Blessed Freinademetz.

END

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