St. Paul Tchen: the first martyr of the Holy Childhood

19 July 2021

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St. Paul Tchen is the first martyr of the Holy Childhood, beheaded in odium of the faith with other fellow prisoners on July 29, 1861 in China. Beatified by Pope Saint Pius X in 1908, his body was transported to the Parisian Cathedral of Notre Dame and laid to rest in the Chapel of the Holy Childhood. Pope St. John Paul II canonized him on October 1, 2000 along with many other Chinese martyrs. To memorialize this remarkable Christian, seminarian, and witness to the faith we are republishing a text taken from a letter written by the Apostolic Vicar of Kouv Tchéou (China) and published in the Annals of the Society of the Holy Childhood in 1962. In the letter, Bishop Louis S. Faurie retraces Paul’s life beginning with his difficult childhood and his determined resolve to enter the minor Seminary, even though he was not yet baptized: “he felt like he was entering a shrine inhabited only by angels. He looked at his companions one by one, put his few things near the bed in the large dormitory and went to the chapel. There in front of that altar he cried for joy". He recounts his vocation to the priesthood that he felt in his heart when he was baptized and received his first Holy Communion and the vision he experienced: "he raised his head and stared once again at the altar. As in a dream, he saw it radiate far away, stained with blood" Then, there was the painful encounter with his parents who wanted him home in order to financially support his family. Finally his admission to the major Seminary. This was the moment when Paul was called to bear witness to the Faith. We then read about his painful imprisonment, the cruelty of the enemies of the Faith, the wisdom and the hope of a new heaven, which animated Paul and his fellow prisoners, Joseph and Jean Baptiste. A few days before their death, the three wrote a last letter to Bishop Mgr. Faurie, in Latin: "we feel that the day is approaching, there is so much silence around us, we are calm, we live an extraordinary peace. We feel that the Lord is with us".