St John Wang Kuixin and his cousin St Joseph Wang Kuiju
Last Monday we celebrated the feast of the martyrs of China – a group of 120 men and women and children who were put to death for their Catholic faith between 1648 and 1930. With such a large group we might be tempted to forget that each one of these martyrs has a personal story and made an individual decision to choose Christ and the Church knowing that it would mean death. Among the martyrs are members of families arrested en masse for their faith and put to death in various ways.
Today is the anniversary of the martyrdom of one of these martyrs, St John Wang Kuixin, whose martyrdom resonates with what is going on in Western society today.
St John was born in Qi County in Hebei Province in the north of China in 1875. He was a devout Catholic who sought to live his faith as well as he could. By the age of twenty-five he was married with children, serving his family humbly and passing on the Catholic faith to them. In 1900 the Boxer rebellion broke out. The Boxers were a nationalist/religious group who were trying to rid China of foreign influences including Christianity. A fierce persecution was waging throughout China with countless Catholics being put to death by the Boxers. Aware of the threat to their families John and his cousin Joseph Wang Kuiju (born 1863), also a fervent Catholic, decided to leave their native village and settle in another one where there was a large Catholic population.
Loading their meagre possessions on wagons, the cousins and their families had no problem leaving and reached the safety of the other village. Having left some stuff in their native place, the two cousins returned to collect them. As they were on their way a heavy shower prevented their continuing the journey, and so they found shelter at an inn. During a conversation in the inn it was discovered that the cousins were Catholic and the two had to defend their faith as the other guests were attacking their religion. In the course of the debate, someone sent for the Boxers and as soon as they arrived, they beheaded Joseph on the spot. John tried to escape, but he was caught and, for some reason, not killed. He was arrested and brought before a local magistrate.
The magistrate seemed to be a kindly sort and he wanted to spare the young man’s life. He urged John not to speak about his faith: he should keep it to himself: that way he would not offend anyone and his life would be spared. But John could not accept such conditions – to hide his faith, to consign it to his “private life” was not what Christ asked his disciples to do. In fact, for John, to do so was to deny Christ and the faith. John refused. With great reluctance, the magistrate handed him over to the Boxers. On the 14th July 1900 John was put to death, invoking the Holy Name of Jesus as he went to his execution.
John and his cousin Joseph were canonised together by Blessed Pope John Paul II in the year 2000.
St John was asked to do what we are being told to do by our secular governments – to consign our faith to the private sphere and not allow it influence our public words and actions. Catholic politicians, President John F Kennedy of the USA foremost among them, publicly disavow their Catholic faith and reassure the powers that be that they will not allow their “personal faith” interfere with their decisions. We have Catholic politicians voting for abortion, civil partnership, gay marriage, euthanasia even though these contradict the moral teaching of the Church in which they claim to be in communion. And then they have the audacity to present themselves as Catholics in good standing and arrive at the altar to receive the Eucharist – and, unfortunately, clergy facilitate this by silence and giving them Holy Communion.
St John Wang Kuixin’s martyrdom reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of this “double-think” or spiritual schizophrenia. He also offers us an example of how we should act in the face of secularism’s pressure to make us deny our faith in public and tries to rid the public square of the Christian voice.