Divine Word Missionaries
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Pope Hails Missionary Saint to China
Pope Benedict flew by helicopter to the remote hamlet of Oies, nestled in the Dolomite Alps in north-eastern Italy Tuesday evening, from where 130 years ago Joseph Freinademetz took off for China working there as a missionary until his death in 1908.
Several thousand people walked through fields and woods to reach the village and greet the Pope, on his first official outing since the start of his two-week vacation at a seminary in the nearby town of Bressanone.
Pope Benedict, who was accompanied by his older brother Georg, visited the old farmhouse with its typical Tyrolean wooden balconies where Freinademetz grew up as one of 12 children.
The home features a small museum with memorabilia from the Divine Word Missionary's life in China, including portraits of the saint depicting him with the pointed beard and round cap typical of Chinese culture in his time.
At 22 years of age, young Joseph was ordained a priest for the diocese of Bressanone, but soon after, an article in the local diocesan magazine about a Mission House in Holland caught his attention. He set out for Steyl in Holland, to become one of the first Divine Word Missionaries, a vocation that eventually led him to the far east and China, where he arrived in 1879 in Hong Kong. He never left the people of China, despite the rigors of persecution, until his death in 1908 from epidemic typhus.
Addressing the crowds in front of the small chapel near the house, Pope Benedict noted the increasing political and economic importance of China and said that Freinademetz was “a saint for today and a sign for the future”.
The Holy Father continued that “it is important that the great continent of China open itself to the Gospel”. He noted that Saint Joseph clearly showed us that “faith does not alienate any culture or people, that all cultures await Christ, that they cannot be destroyed because in Christ they reach maturity”.
It was the second time in as many days that the Holy Father’s thoughts turned to the China. In his Sunday Angelus the Pope had expressed his wishes for the upcoming Beijing Olympics, saying the games should be an example of human dignity and peaceful coexistence.
St Joseph Freinademetz, said Pope Benedict, not only lived and died as a Chinese, but in heaven too remains Chinese. ''He truly identified himself with these people concluded the Pope, in the certainty they will open to faith in Christ”.
Pope Benedict’s short address was greeted with applause and notes of an Alpine band from the Badia Valley. Bringing to an end his first outing among the faithful of the diocese.
On Wednesday the Holy Father is due to meet and address with the priests and bishops of Bressanone.