张士江 John B. Zhang (信德文化研究所 Faith Institute for Cultural Studies)
“Good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). These are the words on the tombstone of Msgr. Schraven and his eight companions, who were killed in October 1937.
The representatives of Japanese army controlling Zhengding city then, the delegates of different countries of the victims, and the Chinese society, all admitted that Msgr. Schraven had died to protect his sheep—those women and children, thus a tombstone was built up to commemorate it. Although the Japanese representatives participated the Requiem Mass, at the Zhengding Cathedral, apologized orally and bowed publicly, and even paid compensation money, the tombstone is very simple, with only the afore-said bible quotation and the names of the martyrs and the date, but without the signature of the builder, nor the mentioning of how those nine missionaries were brutally killed, nor who carried out the atrocities.
The practical significance of the Zhengding Church massacre is that the lives of those women and children were protected and saved, their dignity respected, and the social justice was upheld as well, but there was a heavy price paid—the lives of nine missionaries. It’s disappointing for us to realize that the killers had been trying to cover up the truth till now, to say nothing about apologizing in public. For more than half a century, not only has the citizens of victimized country had no opportunity to know the historical truth, the local people has had no opportunity to commemorate and thank those friends who sacrificed their lives for their older generations. The questions need to be asked are: Besides the protection of women and children, is there any transcendent meaning in their silent sacrifices? Similiarly, what is the meaning and value of those who died silently for the sake of justice during the war? In light of the martyrdom of the key figures of Zhengding Church Massacre, namely Bp. Schraven and his companions, this article is to use two New Testament stories, depicting people killed for the sake of justice to in the New Testament, as examples to talk about the meaning of those, including religious figures, died for Justice.
There are two similar events in the New Testament: the killing of John the Baptist and the killing of all the children in Bethlehem under two years of age when Jesus was born.
John the Baptist could be seen as a prophet of the Israelites; he was also the one who prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah. He challenged people of all walks of life and urged them to repent, to turn away from evil. He even chastised King Herod, for which he was put into prison. The unlawful wife Herod wanted to have was his sister-in-law Herodias, who managed to kill John the Baptist. A prophet, a well respected figure, was killed in prison; he died alone, no one was there to accompany him (Matt 14:6-12; Mark 6:14-25; Lk 9:7-9).
The second case is about a group of innocent children. King Herod was afraid that the new born Messiah could threaten his throne; therefore, as he could not locate the new born king, he gave orders to kill those under two years of age in Bethlehem where Jesus was born (Matt 2:13-18).
There are some similarities between these two events in the New Testament and Zhengding Church massacre.
First, whether it was John the Baptist, the innocent children, or Msgr. Schraven and his companions, none of them chose to die; they died without a choice. Playing the role of a prophet, John the Baptist was urging people to repent, to prepare the way for Jesus, he even introduced his own disciples to follow Jesus. What the innocent children wanted was to happily sleep, eat, and play in their mother’s arms, and then to grow up gradually. Msgr. Schraven tried to negotiate with the Japanese soldiers, to solve the problem in a peaceful manner; he sent two priests to talk to the Japanese, but they were detained.
Secondly, the way they died was similar: John the Baptist, even though he is a well respected prophet, died quietly and alone. No one was beside him at his death, he accepted death alone. Even his cousin--the Messiah--did not appear to save him. Those innocent children could not utter a word, they were born at Jesus’ time, however, they were not blessed nor protected, but were killed instead. It is hard to accept this reality for anyone. Bishop Schraven, the prelate of Zhenging, built good relationship with other people and engaged in various charity works, but on Oct 9th, 1937, he was forcefully taken away from the people he cared for and was killed in the dark night, and his body burned at the foot of Lingxiao Pagoda. Among the nine, some were simply guests passing by, some were friends; they could not speak for themselves, could not choose; they were like the innocent children killed without uttering a word.
Thirdly, John the Baptist, the innocent children, and Msgr. Schraven and his companions, all died as witnesses of righteousness and justice. When Msgr. Schraven was taken away by the Japanese soldiers, he firmly refused the request to exchange his life with some young women as he said to them: “I am a bishop, I’d rather die than accepting your request!” On that dark night, at the foot of Lingxiao Pagoda, those martyrs offered prayers of repentance right before their death.
Fourthly, there are two models for the Church: the role of servant and that of prophet. Msgr. Schraven embraced both. He served the people of Zhengding through means of charitable works like a servant during his life time, and at the end he offered his life like a prophet. At the present time, these two models are both needed for the church community. Though the role of servant is marked by hardship and danger, is relatively safer. The role of prophet, however, is much more dangerous and costly, and rarer and more precious as well.
Finally, we can look at the meaning of the silent sacrifices of Bp. Schraven and his companions for the sake of protecting others from another perspective: Had they had kept silence, stopped symbolically, and then gave up, society could not excessively demanded and criticized them, their lives would have been spared from the inhuman torture and killing. However, these religious figures had chosen to walk along with the women, children, and the injured. In order to protect the lives and dignity of others, they willingly chose to stay in the troubled areas under tremendous pressure and suffering. Some of them even sacrificed their lives silently. Their acts of justice are indeed not the same as those who had died heroically for their country and nation, but they had chosen what others were not willing to choose, and eventually died for the ordinary people silently. In certain sense, this kind of spirit is even more precious and rarer. Their actions against the evil, violence, and killings had become the social conscience and relayed the positive energy in society. At the same time, they had also awakened the sense of social justice in others. For this reason, not only have the sacrifices of Bp. Schraven and his companions gone beyond the narrow-minded nationalism and state concept, but have offered a transcendent meaning. In this sense, the martyrdom of Bp. Schraven and his companions, as well as all those who have died for justice, have done unforgettable contributions to human civilization and morality.
The motivation for Bp. Schraven and his companions’ sacrifices for the sake of justice and others is undoubtedly originated from their religious faith. Although their sacrifices have not been made known to the public for more than half a century, their lives are not ended but merely transformed with a new beginning when looked at from the faith point of view. Their acts and sacrifices for justice will for sure be passed down and will be richly rewarded by Heaven.