VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 21, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Society of the Divine Word will have a day of celebration Oct. 5 when John Paul II canonizes one of the congregation’s own, Father Joseph Freinademetz.
Father Freinademetz, whose motto was “The language everyone understands is love,” was known for his intense apostolic activity in China.
Born on April 15, 1852, in Oies, an Alpine hamlet in northern Italy, he began to give serious thought to the missions while he was studying in the major seminary of Bresanone.
Ordained a priest on July 25, 1875, he was sent to the community of St. Martin of Badia, near his birthplace, where he soon won over the hearts of his countrymen.
Two years later, his bishop gave him permission to follow a missionary vocation. In August 1878 he entered the Society of the Divine Word, whose founder Arnold Janssen will also be canonized Oct. 5.
On March 2, 1879, Father Freinademetz received the missionary cross and left for China together with another Divine Word missionary, Father John Baptist Anzer. They prepared for the mission for two years in Hong Kong and were then assigned to Shantung South, a province with 12 million inhabitants and only 158 baptized individuals.
Father Freinademetz wanted to learn Chinese perfectly and to win the hearts of the people.
“I love China and the Chinese and I would like to die a thousand times for them,” he wrote his parents in 1886. “Now that I don’t have so many difficulties with the language and that I know the people and their customs, I think of China as my homeland, as my field of battle where I wish to die.”
Those years were characterized by long and difficult trips, assaults by bandits, and arduous work to form the first Christian communities. No sooner was one community under way, the bishop would ask him to start another elsewhere.
Father Freinademetz understood the importance of the five laymen who were involved in the first evangelization, especially as catechists. He put much effort into their formation and prepared a catechetical manual in Chinese for them. Together with John Baptist Anzer, already a bishop, he dedicated himself to the preparation, spiritual care and permanent formation of Chinese priests and other missionaries.
Father Freinademetz died in Taikiachwang on Jan. 28, 1908, from a typhus epidemic, an illness he caught while working with patients. His grave immediately became a place of pilgrimage for Christians. He was beatified on Oct. 19, 1975.