By Rev. Father Eusebio Arnaiz, C.SS.R. Chapter I: The Marist Brother
1-Land of martyrs When speaking of the flourishing mission of Sienshien, China, one may fittingly bring to mind again the time-proven saying of the great African apologist: “Pluries efficimur, quoties metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis christianorum!” “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”
Toward the fateful closing of the XIXth century, the vicariate of Sienshien, which had been erected in 1856 and is also properly called Southwest Chihli, included the four actual dioceses of Sienshien, Yungnien, Kingshien and Taming. Intrepid Jesuit missionaries, with the help of the native clergy, had succeeded, only after two and half centuries of arduous labour in filling the plains of Sienshien with an abundant spiritual harvest, with flourishing Christian communities, with churches and shrines, where thousands of the faithful were unconsciously preparing themselves for martyrdom.
The Boxer massacres of 1900 peopled heaven with many Chinese martyrs. In the sole vicariate of Southeast Chihli, it exceeded five thousand. If we limit our narrative to include only the northern portion of the vicariate, we may then present the testimony of Father P. Mertens, SJ, a local missionary of long standing. His records show that 3714 Catholics defended with their lives the truths of our holy religion. Such records contain as well name, age, parentage, birthplace and place of martyrdom of each of them. Father Vinchon, an eyewitness of the massacres, collected on his own initiative, the names of 3069 martyrs with their age, birth-place, and the date of martyrdom. The actual process sent to Rome in 1930, by the Bishop of Sienshien is a dossier of some 30,000 pages in which 359 different cases are studied. These do not include the cases established by Bishop Joseph Tsoei of Yungnien, cases which refer to the martyrs within his own vicariate. At the time of the Boxer Rebellion his vicariate formed part of Sienshien. The Chinese martyrs beatified by Pius XII are fifty-six in number.
Thirty-three years after the Boxer Rebellion, the vicariate of Sienshien had reached a total of 110,902 Catholics and 8596 catechumens. The vicariate of Yungnien, by then separated from Sienshien and entrusted to the secular clergy, had 42,630 Catholics and 2660 catechumens. Both vicariates, by 1933, had brought forth a combined total of over 200 priestly and religious vocations.
Let us give a concrete example. The Marist Brothers harvested during the first half of the century some thirty-odd vocations in the actual diocese of Sienshien alone – undoubtedly the spiritual fruits of so many martyrs whose blood had drenched the countryside. One of these vocations was Brother Joche Albert Ly, the subject of the present monograph.
Having valiantly surrendered his mortal life in exchange for life eternal, Brother Albert Ly has now enlarged the triumphal army of the innumerable martyrs from Sienshien. Among the Chinese disciples of saint Champagnat, who have suffered under the Communist regime, he is the standard-bearer. Following his example, many others under the hell-like Communist rule, have by now reddened their religious garb in defence of their faith.