Missionaries were sent throughout the world during the 17th century as European ships began to explore the entire globe. One of these missionaries was St. Francis de Capillas, a Spanish Dominican priest who died a martyr’s death in China.
He is considered the “protomartyr” of China, meaning that he was the first Christian missionary who was martyred in that country.
According to the Dominican Friars of St. Joseph Province website, “The Protomartyr of China, St. Francis de Capillas (1607-1648, feast – Jan. 15) shed his blood in China, consecrating the ground and preparing it for the other 133 Chinese martyrs who would offer their lives for the spread of the Gospel within the following century.”
St. Francis first stopped in the Philippines and spent about a month there in preparation for China.
He arrived in China in 1642 and was able to make some progress among the people for about six years.
However, he was eventually captured, imprisoned and sentenced to death in 1648 for his evangelization efforts.
St. Francis was among those canonized by St. John Paul II in 2000.
St. John Paul II recalled the heroism of these missionaries and lay people who shed their blood for love of Jesus Christ:
Resplendent in this host of martyrs are also the 33 missionaries who left their land and sought to immerse themselves in the Chinese world, lovingly assimilating its features in the desire to proclaim Christ and to serve those people. Their tombs are there as if to signify their definitive belonging to China, which they deeply loved, although with their human limitations, and for which they spent all their energies. “We never wronged anyone,” Bishop Francis Fogolla replied to the governor who was preparing to strike him with his sword. “On the contrary, we have done good to many.”
St. Francis was the first of these martyrs and planted the seed of Christianity, hoping that one day it would bear much fruit.