VATICAN CITY, October 1 (AP)--Pope John Paul II's naming of the Roman Catholic Church's first Chinese saints drew thousands of ethnic Chinese to a rainy St. Peter's Square Sunday--and angry protests from China, which called the ceremony a "humiliation." John Paul presided over the canonization of 87 Chinese Catholics and 33 foreign missionaries killed over a four-century campaign to bring Christianity to China. Most of the 120 died in the anti-Western, anti-Christian Boxer Rebellion of 100 years ago. A yellow banner draped from St. Peter's Basilica proclaimed them "sacred martyrs." "Young and old, fathers and mothers" perished for the faith in China, a proclamation read at the outset of the ceremony said. The canonization falls on the 51st anniversary of communist rule in China--timing that especially angered Beijing, which is combatting underground Catholic churches and other banned spiritual movements it sees as a challenge to its authority. China today still views the Boxer Rebellion as heroic resistance to imperial forces. "We express our indignation at this distortion of history," Bishop Fu Tieshan of China's state-run church said in an interview shown Sunday on China Central Television's overseas service. "This is a public humiliation that we cannot accept." China broke ties with the Vatican in 1951 and forbids worship outside the state-run church. The Vatican and Beijing each continue to appoint their own bishops to the rival churches. "This should be a subject of glory and pride for the whole Chinese people," said the Rev. Anthony Chen, a China-born priest among the throngs in St. Peter's Square. "It's an honor, to me." The Vatican says the canonization is timed to the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, patron saint of missionaries. Sunday's mass ceremony decreed sainthood for three others: U.S. socialite and philanthropist Katharine Drexel, Sudanese slave-turned-nun Guiseppine Bahkhita, and Spaniard Maria Josefa del Corazon de Jesus Sancho de Guerra, founder of a charitable order. Addressing worshippers in Beijing's South Cathedral, Bishop Fu Tieshan did not comment directly on the canonizations. But he reminded them that Sunday should be a rallying point for Chinese. "Today is National Day, and more than ever Chinese Catholics should stand with the nation," Fu said at morning services in the high-vaulted church, built in 1904 on a site where Catholics have worshipped in Beijing for more than 300 years. Fu's sentiments were repeated among worshippers at South Cathedral, which was burned to the ground by the superstitious Boxers, who are praised by the Communist Party as forerunners of the revolution. "Canonization is a good thing. But these were not carried out in consultation with Chinese Catholics, and some of them aren't deserving," Zhao Honglan, a 66-year old retiree, said as a representative of the official church stood nearby. "Saints should be role models, but these were criminals against the Chinese people. This is an insult to China and an insult to the Chinese Catholics," said another churchgoer, who gave only her surname, Li.
The official church in China claims 4 million believers, but an equal number worship in an underground church loyal to the Vatican and relentlessly persecuted.