There is an incredible wealth of holiness among the Asian saints.
Though there are hundreds of Asian saints (and even more with open causes who haven’t yet been canonized), many Catholics outside of Asia would be hard-pressed to name any other than the Middle Eastern men and women who walked with Jesus. Some may know the men who are listed first in the large groups of canonized Saints—St. Paul Miki, St. Andrew Kim Taegon, St. Augustine Zhao Rong, and St. Andrew Dung Lac. But there is an incredible wealth of holiness among the Asian saints, including many, many saintly women. As we continue to pray for those affected by the shootings in Atlanta, let’s ask the intercession of some of the many holy Asian women who stand before the throne of God.
St. Mary Zhu Wu (1850-1900) was a Chinese mother of four, married to Zhu Dianxuan, the lay leader of the Christians in their village. During the Boxer Rebellion, Wu and her husband led their village in accepting nearly 3,000 Christian refugees, including two European priests. Dianxuan led the men in building fortifications and fighting against the 4,500 Boxer soldiers who came against them, but was killed when a cannon backfired. By the time the Boxers breached the village’s defenses, some thousand Christians were packed into the church seeking general absolution. As the Boxers burst into the church, Wu stood in front of their priest, St. Leon Mangin, and held her arms out to shield him from the bullets. She was killed, as were hundreds of others. Only 500 Christians survived the massacre; most were then sold into slavery.
Servant of God María Rosario of the Visitation (1884-1957) was born to an illustrious Filipino family: one brother became a senator, the other governor of the Filipino province of Iloilo. Though set up for an extraordinarily comfortable life, the young heiress left her fortune behind to become a Dominican Sister. She later founded the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary and donated her entire fortune to the new congregation. During World War II, the Sisters’ convent was used as a headquarters by Japanese soldiers and repeatedly bombed by American forces, but the Sisters survived and now serve throughout the Philippines as well as in the United States, Kenya, Italy, and the Mariana Islands.
Bl. Agnes Phila (1909-1940) was a Thai Sister. Though not raised Catholic, her family moved to a Christian village when she was a child and Agnes was baptized at 15. Agnes later became a Sister with the Lovers of the Cross and was eventually sent to Songkhon to teach. Though Thailand had always been quite safe for Catholics, conflicts with the West led to persecution later that year. Their priest was driven out of the village and their catechist, Bl. Philip Siphon Onphitak, was martyred. When the Sisters were threatened (on Christmas day) Sr. Agnes was undaunted. “Do you really mean to kill us for being Catholic?” she asked. “Then be sure to bring enough bullets.” Sr. Agnes was martyred with another Sister and four laywomen.
St. Agnes Lê Thi Thành (1781-1841) was born to a wealthy Vietnamese family and raised Catholic. Her father was very lax in the practice of his faith, so her mother took Thành and her sister and left him. Thành married at 17, had six children, and built onto her house so that she could provide hospitality for priests who were evading capture. She was arrested for hiding a priest and, though initially terribly afraid, found peace in the promise of martyrdom. Though tortured repeatedly (sometimes with poisonous snakes tied inside her pant legs), Thành refused to deny her faith and even consoled her youngest daughter when she came to visit. She ultimately died in prison of the wounds she had received.
Servant of God Helena of Gonawila (1848-1931) was the youngest of seven children born to a Sri Lankan couple. Though her father had converted to Catholicism in order to marry her Catholic mother, he continued to practice as a Buddhist and even dabbled in the occult, along with Helena’s oldest brother. They ridiculed and physically abused Helena for her faith, particularly when she refused to marry. Longing for their conversion, Helena asked the Lord to giver her suffering that she could offer for them. In return, she was given the stigmata for more than 60 years. After some time, both her father and her brother were converted (which certainly helped to alleviate some of Helena’s suffering, since she still lived with them).
Servant of God Lucia Park Bin-suk (1919-1950) was born in what is now North Korea. She was raised by a single mother and discerned a Benedictine vocation while visiting her aunt at a monastery. During the Korean War, communist officials disbanded the monastery, arrested the European Sisters, and ordered the Korean Sisters to wear lay clothes. Sr. Lucia moved to her home village, but continued to gather children and teach them catechism and music lessons. Though most of the other Sisters escaped to South Korea, Sr. Lucia stayed behind to help an older Sister. She was betrayed by a cousin and martyred.