Today, 1 Mar 1856, is the anniversary of death of St Agnes Cao Guiying (or Kuiying), a member of the 120 Chinese martyrs canonised by Blessed Pope John Paul the Great on 1 Oct 2000. Sorrows were a regular part of her life, but they deepened her faith until she was able to be an effective lay catechist and to endure a lingering martyrdom.
St Agnes was born into a Catholic family in 1821 in the Guizhou province of China, a mountainous area in southern inland China. Her first recorded sorrows were the deaths of her parents. When they died she left their rural village and went to the city of Xingyi to find work. Agnes found lodging with a Catholic woman and was challenged by the local bishop to learn more about her faith. Having been granted more than common intelligence, she learned easily and retained what she learned.
Around the age of 18 she married a local farmer, but it doesn’t seem to have been a happy situation. Her husband proved to be a violent man and her in-laws treated her badly. Within 2 years her husband died and his family evicted her. Forced to fend for herself, Agnes tried her hand at many odd jobs. Poverty and related difficulies had been her lot for much of her adult life. Another Catholic widow found out about Agnes’ plight and invited her to live with her. From time to time a priest would visit this generous Catholic widow and make the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist available. Agnes benefited spiritually from more regular access to the Sacraments.
It wasn’t long before a visiting priest, Fr Auguste Chapdelaine (also martyred and canonised in this group) found out how well Agnes knew the teachings of the Catholic faith. Since he needed someone to help with the catechesis of young women and families, Fr Auguste invited Agnes to the province of Guangxi to serve in that capacity. So again Agnes moved house, and began to teach the Catholic catechism to around 30-40 families, supporting herself with odd jobs like babysitting.
When Emperor Hien Fung cracked down on Christians in his region, Agnes was one of those arrested. Fr Auguste was also arrested around the same time. Many tactics were used to persuade Agnes to deny her faith, but they all failed. Remaining strong in faith, she showed no fear. The final torture consisted of being locked into a cage so close-fitting that she could only stand up in it. Hers was a long and slow death from hunger and thirst, but throughout her final ordeal she called upon the Lord Jesus for help and mercy. Agnes was able to endure this great trial by keeping her eyes fixed on Jesus and upon the eternal and heavenly banquet awaiting her when death eventually came on 1 March 1856. She was only 35. Her namesake, St Agnes of Rome, would have been very proud of her.
Valiant St Agnes Cao Guiying, pray for us.