Jose Martinez

The history of the Shangqiu mission in its first decades (1924-1955) was marked by war conflicts and their terrible consequences: famines, insecurity, massive emigrations, loss of property, deaths… The missionaries were a ray of hope in so many calamities.

The welcoming attitude of the Augustinian Recollect missionaries

The Augustinian Recollect missionaries in China showed a welcoming attitude towards the needy people who were in their path. Following the example of the good Samaritans did not pass by, but tried to offer spiritual salvation, comfort, and love to the sick, needy, or dying.

Foundation of the Holy Childhood (1925)

From the beginning, they opened the doors of the Mission to welcome those who needed aid. In 1925 they founded an orphanage, called Holy Childhood, to welcome abandoned girls, which later became a hotbed of catechists and native nuns.

It is known that Father Mariano Gazpio, already in his first years as a missionary, sheltered refugees in the Chengliku mission: a child kidnapped for ransom and a young man who was detained to enlist in the army. They both ended happily, thanks to the “Saint of the Mission” intervention. For his part, Venancio Martínez hosted in his house to an opiate addict in poor condition and helped him in his recovery detox and rehabilitation process.

Fr. Pedro Colomo’s dispensary (1932-1952)

An outstanding figure in the care of the sick and the practice of charity was Father Pedro Colomo, a doctor by profession, who in 1932 founded a medical dispensary in Shangqiu (Henan, China). His consultations were free, both for Christians and for poor pagans. The medicines were also distributed at the dispensary and in the mission’s other districts. Spiritual care and a decent place to die were also provided to many abandoned dying people who were taken to the mission. These gestures of love towards them were considered the greatest testimony of the truth of the Gospel that the missionaries preached.

Sino-Japanese War (1937-1939)

This welcoming work stood out even more during the harsh reality of the Sino-Chinese War. Japan (1937-1939), when missionaries sheltered and helped thousands of refugees at all mission posts. And also in many other moments, because of the 28 years that the

Augustinian Recollects missionaries remained in the Shangqiu mission (1924-1952), various wars marked the majority of them: the war of reunification of China (1926-1930), the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1939), which was prolonged when the Second World War (1939-1945), the war between nationalists and communists (1945-1949) and the communist persecution of foreign missionaries (1949-1952). As Gazpio stated, “It would be impossible to count the countless calamities that this poor Chinese person by the wars and the bandits”.

The all-out war that Japan unleashed against China in 1937 was especially dramatic. With its destructive capacity and aerial bombardments, it caused a serious situation of death and massive displacement of refugees. Thousands of people fled the war seeking protection for their lives and property.

Faced with this situation, the apostolic delegate in China proposed the main program with the one that the Church wanted and had to respond pastorally to the tragic situation in China, expressed in the pastoral letter entitled Inter arma Charitas (Amid weapons, the charity) in 1937. Amid the conflict, the Catholic Church had to wage its battle: “the battle of charity towards all, with maximum patience and work “constantly in favor of the Church and the Chinese people.”

Care for refugees at the Shangqiu Mission

In the Shangqiu Vicariate, as the war approached Henan Province, the people began to flock to the mission in search of refuge. Christians and pagans, Likewise, arrived with all their belongings and trusted the missionaries to protect their lives and property. Confidence in the goodness and honesty of the missionaries was absolute.

The Ningling and Yungcheng missions were especially distinguished in this regard. Once the invaders controlled these cities, virtually all inhabitants remained within the limits of the mission properties. This situation lasted for more than two months in some cases. The most pressing problem was the food for thousands of people. The missionaries distributed everything they had at home and, when their reserves were exhausted, they asked the victors for help to remedy this need. In this way, it was possible to solve this serious problem of feeding people affected by war.

After the invasion, many people sheltered in the mission centers returned to their homes, hundreds and thousands could not do so and had to wander, living off charity and taking refuge in the cities to protect themselves from bandits. The economic difficulties, the increase in prices, and the looting by guerrillas and bandits made these abandoned multitudes suffer from hunger.

Yellow River Flood (1938)

Hundreds of thousands of people joined the victims of the Shangqiu region coming from the eastern areas of the Kaifeng Vicariate, affected by the floods caused by the destruction of the Yellow River dams (June 14, 1938). Nearly a million people died in these floods and another million lost everything and were forced to move to neighboring regions in search of food and shelter.

The Shangqiu mission, after having suffered great difficulties, encountered a new test: drought. This situation aggravated the tragic reality of the town, which already had endured hardships, exile, wandering life, banditry, and looting. The speculation raised commodity prices and the drought ruined hopes for a new harvest that could partially alleviate the difficulties. Once again, deprivation, misery, and suffering loomed on the horizon.

Father Francisco Javier Ochoa, after receiving money in Beijing and contacting the Order’s procuratorate in Shanghai, following the advice of Propaganda Fide, negotiated with the local Japanese Government financial compensation for the damage caused. This made it possible to obtain some money to face the various mission needs.

Ochoa quickly understood the situation of the needy people in the Vicariate and took action on it. Following his instructions, each district collected as many hungry people as possible in one or two points, depending on their ability. Concerning the number of people welcomed, he gave money to each missionary to distribute it. Most of them hosted more than 300 people. In total, some 3,000 or more people were fed by the Vicariate for three months. Not only were material needs met, but they also opened catechumenates in assistance centers to nourish the spiritual needs of the Christians and catechumens. Thanks to these catechumenates, more adults were baptized than in previous years, reaching about 1,200 baptisms.

Peace Builders

Our missionaries were at the same time peacebuilders. In this field Fathers Arturo Quintanilla, Mariano Gazpio, Venancio Martínez, José Martínez, a famous peacemaker between bands of guerrillas and bandits, and Luis Arribas. Yungcheng District solemnly recognized the charitable work of this last, which welcomed all those seeking refuge and protection, and cared for the sick and dying without making distinctions. This recognition was engraved on a stele stone as a testimony of gratitude to Father Arribas.

In summary, the Mission was a crucial reception center during the war conflicts in China, especially during the Sino-Japanese War. The Augustinian Recollects missionaries demonstrated great generosity by welcoming and caring for thousands of refugees, providing them with food, shelter, and spiritual care amid adversity. The charitable work and Christian faith in times of war were a living testimony of sincere love for others manifested in the most difficult moments.