José Martínez

In 1901 José Martínez Llorente was born in Igea de Cornago (La Rioja) and died in Lodosa. (Navarra) in 1957, where he had retired due to the illness contracted in hisstay for twenty-two years in the Kweiteh/Shangqiu mission, where he stood out for his kind and pacifying disposition.

José Martínez was part of the second expedition of missionaries that arrived at the mission by Kweiteh. Together with fathers Lorenzo Peña, Julián Sáenz, Manuel Echauz, and Sabino Elizondo would arrive on November 6 at the mission, which received a renewed boost with them. This is how Father Ochoa describes him:

Five new missionaries arrived at this mission, all of them young and spirited, as everyone who comes here needs to be there. One of the five who came at the beginning, Fr.  Pedro Zunzarren returned to Shanghai as a partner of Father Cueva. So now there are nine of us who remained in the mission. There is no doubt that our Father Provincial has made a great effort to put so many in such a short time. But to tell you the truth, it was necessary to strike such a blow, to cover the mouths of many who believed that we Recollects were unable to take a mission in China.

In November 1925, with the inauguration of the headquarters and the mission established as an independent mission, the new provincial, Father Bernabé Pena, together with the ten religious, dedicated himself to organizing the mission and religious life of the missionaries.

In this new distribution, fathers José Martínez and Julián Sáenz were assigned to the Checheng missionary post. However, Monsignor Tacconi, upon learning of the plans for the Recollect missionaries to buy a property and settle in the city, told them that they should not continue, since it was reserved for their missionaries. This situation frustrated José Martínez’s projects, but he did not let that stop him in his Missionary work. José Martínez was then sent to Palichoang (Siayi), where he accompanied Father Arribas for a long year. After a brief stay in Shanghai, following the orders of the prior provincial for the missionaries to leave, José Martínez returned to Palichoang, this time accompanied by Julián Sáenz. However, his stay there was not without danger. On  November 17, 1927, those two fathers were attacked by bandits who broke into his house with shots, miraculously saving his life.

Despite these challenges, José Martínez began to reap the first fruits of his missionary labor in Palichoang. However, he was ordered to open a new mission district in the distant city of Kaocheng. In 1931, José Martínez arrived in Kaocheng from the mission of Palichoang. At first, he had to live in a humble hut for two and a half months before finally acquiring a property with several houses. However, he found difficulties, since the city’s principals opposed giving him property due to the past mistakes made by some servants and catechists, which led to tensions between the Catholic Church and local authorities.

To gain the trust of the people back, José Martínez resorted to his camera. Although it was an indirect means for the spread of the gospel, it had excellent results. As there was no photographer in the city, the main ones approached little by little to be photographed.

As people became familiar with Father José Martínez and the simple character of him and kindly, the initial misgivings against the missionary began to dissipate. His dedication made the opposition to his presence as a Catholic missionary gradually disappear, leading to a greater abundance of missionary fruits.

Also, to keep them happy, he did not charge them anything for the portraits. That’s how I got into the Red Cross office, through the mandarinate, and the main houses until I became a friend of theirs. Before the end of the first year, I already had eight or ten catechists distributed throughout the towns with more than 500 catechumens.

He would only remain on that mission for a short time since shortly afterward the new civil subprefecture of Mingchoang, took territories from other subprefectures, among others from that of Kaocheng. The new subprefecture belonged to the Kaifeng civil prefecture, so he passed to that Vicariate, and in compensation, the Recollects were again given the Checheng Prefecture. In this way, Father José Martínez returned to his first destination, frustrated at that moment, but that would become from now on his missionary post, where he would be working until the end of his stay on the mission.

In December 1932, José Martínez moved to Seliulou (Checheng). At that moment, the subprefecture had only about 80 Christians dispersed in several towns. There was only a small house full of leaks that served as a school and chapel to pray together. To reach the mission, José Martínez had to build a house, a chapel, and other necessary dependencies.

After establishing the Seliulou mission, José Martínez dedicated himself to the construction of school camps in different missionary centers of Checheng. During the first ten years, ten school chapels were built in addition to the Seliulou residence.

The Seliulou region was considered a nest of thieves, which forced the missionaries to spend many nights in the countryside or take refuge in Setseho, a walled market a few four kilometers from Seliulou, to protect themselves. Despite the dangers at night, during that day calm reigned, which allowed José Martínez to work effectively in his missionary work.

The fatigue and hard missionary work began to take their toll on Fr. Joseph’s health. He had to move to Shanghai, where he was subjected to several painful operations that he carried out with exemplary spirit and serenity. Once recovered he returned to the mission accompanying fathers Francisco Sanz and Pedro Ruiz who had been assigned to the mission, and so he returned to the mission on March 18, 1935.

After the Japanese bombing of Kweiteh in 1938, Father Colomo took the seminarians to take refuge in Seliulou, where José Martínez welcomed them for a month. The situation became complicated by the Japanese occupation of China during the Second World War. The Japanese maintained control of the strategic points and left the rest of the territory in disorganized chaos. Among these stood out Seliulou, where the father José Martínez had to act as a mediator and acted decisively in the pacification of the territory and the well-being and security of the people. The poor people went to him with their worries, victims of war, the simple people. There were no tears that I did not wipe away, nor sorrow that he did not try to alleviate.

Since the Government troops no longer commanded this piece of land and the Japanese passed through both sides, the bandits made a kind of independent state with their mandarins, generals, and other positions. In this state of affairs, I had to determine something, and I decided to visit the bosses to see if I could get them to leave me alone and thus help everything he could to Christians and pagans. They liked my visit very much since they had a great honor that a European came to them for protection. The next day the chief bosses returned my visit by inviting them to a meal and since then They considered me their best friend. (…) Out of consideration for the missionary, not a single bad chicken was missing, when in the other towns there was nothing healthy left. Therefore, people continually came in search of protection, sometimes to have their oxen returned, others to save their son from death, and others who had stolen their women and see if I could rescue them. Always it was enough for him to know where the stolen thing was so that it could be returned to its owner. What cost me the most was saving the life of an individual, who at another time had put one of the leaders in jail, suffering many tortures. (….) It was difficult to get him released, but it was finally achieved. However, this good Chinese after saving his life did not even come to thank me; There was a time when I bumped into him in the streets and passed by as if he didn’t know me.

Father José Martínez was requested several times by the leaders of different groups of bandits to peacefully settle their differences, mediating between the different gangs of guerrillas and bandits fighting for control of Seliulou and devastating the area, managing many times to maintain peace between them. He was so accustomed to inhabitants of that region to see him involved in this endeavor, and everyone already called him “the good Chief of the bandits.”

After the war, José Martínez returned to Spain on April 18, 1947, with health problems Ten years later, on May 5, 1957, he died at the apostolic college of Lodosa due to a bronchopneumonia. His superior highlighted his virtues of outstanding humility, authentic religious brotherly spirit, kindness of heart, and dedication as a missionary.