Yuan Qu (Agenzia Fides) - "Thanks to this young Dutch missionary who dedicated his life to the Church in China and evangelization in the Country, we were able to have this wonderful gift of faith in Christ": this is what Mgr. Peter Wu Jun Wei, Bishop of Yun Cheng diocese in Shan Xi province, said during the solemn commemoration of the 110th anniversary of the birth of the Dutch Franciscan Missionary Father Aemilianus Van Heel, OFM. The missionary was assassinated at 31 years of age by Japanese invaders because he defended and welcomed Chinese, Catholic and non-Catholic displaced persons in his church, saving thousands of people fleeing from Japanese violence.
According to the news gathered by Agenzia Fides, during the ceremony on June 17, Mgr. Wu inaugurated and blessed the new tombstone of the missionary. The celebration took place three days before the International Day of Refugees on June 20th. Several witnesses recalled the heroic behavior of the Franciscan missionary. According to Mgr. Wu, "he sacrificed his precious life at the age of 31 to save refugees, Catholics and non, from Japanese invaders. As Christians, but above all we priests, religious men and women, we must follow his footsteps and those of many other missionary pioneers to bring the Gospel to everyone". A new tombstone was placed to keep the spirit of Father Aemilianus alive, of which today there is a great need: universal love and justice. The Dutch Provincial Superior of the Franciscans and the former Dutch Ambassador to China, Roland Van den Berg, sent a telegram of participation.
Father Aemilianus Van Heel, OFM, was born in Leiden, Holland, on June 8, 1907. He came to China as a missionary in 1933 and began his mission in the village of Shi Tou Ge Ta (current village of Changzhi), in Yuanqu of Chang Zhi, in the province of Shan Xi. He was much loved by the inhabitants, Catholics and non-Catholics, and spoke Chinese very well, practiced medicine, welcomed orphans and loved the local people. In a word, "he was always ready to give everything to his flock".
During the invasion of the Japanese army in Yuanqu in 1938, the military burned houses, killed, kidnapped, raped and tortured many people. More than 2,000 women and children took refuge in the church, thanks to the great courage and generosity of Father Aemilianus. The priest had organized the accommodation of all the refugees, raising the walls of the courtyard of the church and extending the cellar. He then dealt with the Japanese soldiers who continued to commit violence against the population, especially women and girls in the school he managed. He told the Japanese military: "Until I am here, you will not take away any of the women or girls from here". The Japanese brutally killed him on the night of October 8, 1938. (NZ) (Agenzia Fides, 27/06/2017)