A relic of Pope St. John Paul II has been given permanent pride of place in a church in Tangshan Diocese, China’s Hebei province, where dozens of Catholics were martyred more than a century ago.
Bishop Fang Jianping of Tangshan led a Mass at Xiaotao Catholic Church on Oct. 22, Pope St. John Paul II’s feast day, to welcome a lock of the saint’s hair. The Mass was concelebrated by 10 diocesan priests and attended by about 400 Catholics.
In his homily, Bishop Fang spoke about the life of Pope St. John Paul II and called on the faithful to follow the saint’s example and learn from his words and deeds.
One hundred and twenty martyrs have been recognised for being killed for their faith in China between the years 1648 and 1930.
Most of the martyrs, who included 33 foreign missionaries, died during China’s Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901).
Bishop Fang said worshippers should use their spirit as an inspiration rather than pray to them directly as the spirit they displayed showed a greater faithfulness to God.
Pope St. John Paul II canonized the martyrs on Oct. 1, 2000, a move which displeased Beijing and strained Sino-Vatican relations at the time.
A church member who asked not to be named told UCA News that the diocese sought to beatify more martyrs from the Xiaotao Church last year and the Holy See responded by giving them the relic of the late pope.
According to a memorial in the church dozens of people died for their faith there in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, but only 22 of them were identified. Many were burned or buried alive and included women and children, one of whom was only 4 years old. The memorial was established in 2013 to remember them after their graves were bulldozed during the Cultural Revolution.
The source said the relic was given to the parish by Monsignor Slawomir Oder, who was in charge of Pope St. John Paul II’s canonization process.
He also said the relic arrived in Tangshan in January and the diocese had been waiting for the right moment to place it in the Xiaotao Church.
The Holy See had requested the diocese arrange a ceremony and publicize the relic’s arrival as much as possible so many Catholics could venerate it and strengthen their communion with the Church.