Chinese Martyrs and the Beautiful Art of Ken Jan Woo

We remember today, July 9th, the 120 martyrs who died in China between the years 1648 and 1930. Eighty-seven of these were native born Chinese and were children, parents, catechists, and simple laborers ranging in age from nine years old to seventy-two.

In the early 19th century, Augustine Zhao Rong, who we honor as a saint of the Church today, was at the time a Chinese soldier who accompanied French missionary Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse to his martyrdom in Bejiing.  Profoundly touched by the Bishop’s courage in the face of great trials, humiliation, and eventual death, Zhao Rong sought baptism, was given the baptismal name of Augustine, and was soon ordained a diocesan priest. He spoke often of Bishop Dufresse’s sense of hope and confidence.

In 1815 the Chinese government also martyred Father Augustine Zhao Rong.

Recently, a new icon of Father Zhao Rong was completed by the brilliant Chinese artist Ken Jan Woo. Many of his icons and sacred art can be seen at his website Classically trained, Ken brings a new contemporary spirit to the sacred images of the Church’s past history. His exquisite rendering of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, in a typical icon format, is powerful in its simplicity and harmony.

St. Augustine Zhao Rong, in association with the Gospel reading of Monday July 9th (Matthew 9: 18-26), challenges us to reflect on how we present our trials and troubles to the Lord.

What sets the martyr  Augustine Zhao Rong, and the people in today’s Gospel apart from many in society, is that they saw in Jesus a reason to have hope. Jesus provided them with hope even when circumstances dictated that they shouldn’t have any. Why is this? It may be because Jesus’ view of hope, like everything in His ministry, was always directed back to His Father. Jesus tells us, “With God, all things are possible to those who believe.”

Jesus’ words of expectant faith provided people with hope: for He said to the woman “Take heart, daughter – your faith has made you well.” That phrase “Take heart” ignited the woman’s sense of expectant faith, and because of her belief, allowed her to cooperate with the healing process.

It took a great deal of faith for a local ruler to come to Jesus and request His help. The girl was already considered dead and professional mourners had already been hired to demonstrate the family’s public grief. Yet, the mourners and others in the crowd scornfully laughed at Jesus. Their grief was as bogus as their lack of faith.

Jesus’ readiness to heal, teach, and to always be open to the needs of others – gives us a glimpse into the mind and heart of God – and it provides us with a model to follow.

As we start a new week, let our prayer be the prayer of the martyrs: Lord, you love each of us with a unique and personal love. As we face our troubles with confident hope, touch our souls with your saving power, and heal and restore us to the fullness of your eternal life. Amen

Artwork Copyright © Ken Jan Woo. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

4 thoughts on “Chinese Martyrs and the Beautiful Art of Ken Jan Woo


    1. Thank you for re-blogging my essay to your website. We appreciate your checking in, and interest, in what we are doing. Our prayers are with you for your continued success in your efforts toward the New Evangelization of the Church.

  2. I learn so much from you! I had never heard of St. Augustine Zhao Rong, at least not consciously. At Daily Mass on Monday, the liturgy was celebrated in his honor. I enjoyed the link to Ken Jan Woo’s artwork as well. Beautiful icons. thanks for another beautiful and enjoyable post!

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