Around the year 64, the city of Rome experienced a devastating fire. Emperor Nero blamed it on the Christians, and a severe persecution followed. Included in the mass murder of Christians were the First Martyrs of Rome. We don’t know their names, but their witness to the faith is certain.
Embroiled in some controversy due to the interpretation of historical facts, Saint Junipero Serra was canonized by Pope Francis on the steps of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, on September 23, 2015. Known for having traveled the west coast of the country in the 18th century, Saint Juniper founded many of the famous California Missions.
Saint Oliver Plunkett may not be a household name in the United States but he certainly is well known in the British Isles. The Archbishop of Armagh, Plunkett led his archdiocese through the rough days of persecution of Catholics. Finally apprehended, Saint Oliver was hanged, drawn, and quartered July 1, 1681.
We don’t know a lot about Saint Thomas the Apostle, but tradition has it that he traveled to and preached the gospel in India, where he was eventually martyred. His name means “twin,” and due to his skepticism, he is also known as “Doubting Thomas.”
Saint Elizabeth of Portugal did not have an easy time in spite of the fact that she was royalty. She spent her life seeking peace between herself and her unfaithful husband, and between many of her relatives. Elizabeth saw some progress in this endeavor before retiring to a Poor Clare monastery where she died.
Saint Anthony Zaccaria lived only 36 years, but he founded three religious communities and contributed to the reformation of the Church. He insisted on various religious or devotional practices to renew the spiritual life of the clergy, religious, and laity.
Saint Maria Goretti has captured the love and affection of thousands of people because of the simplicity and purity of her life. Maria's canonization saw the conversion of her murderer and his reconciliation with her family.
Among the 120 Chinese martyrs canonized in 2000 were Saint Gregory Grassi and Companions. Victims of political maneuverings by other countries these Franciscan men and women, along with lay men and women, gave their lives in service of the Chinese people. They were martyred on various dates in 1900, during the Boxer Uprising, the culmination of the anti-foreigner movement in China.
Among the Chinese martyrs was the diocesan priest, Father Augustine Zhao Rong. Facing the strong anti-foreign and anti-Catholic feelings present in China for centuries, these martyrs were caught up in a situation that in many ways had nothing to do either with religion or with the Church. But they stayed loyal to Christianity and to their people, and gave their lives in witness.