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  • Franciscan Martyrs in South Hunan

    Antonius Fantosati - Bishop
    In 1842, Antonius Fantosati was born to Domenico and Maria Bompardre in Santa Maria in Valle. His Franciscan vocation was fostered in the novitiate at the Friary of Spineta. After studies in Cerreto, he made his solemn profession on July 28, 1862. Ordained in Carpineto Romano, he celebrated his first Mass there on June 13, 1865. Two years later he accepted the invitation from Minister General, Fr. Bernardinus of Portogruaro, to become a missionary in China, with a group of 9 others led by Msgr. Zanoli, OFM, Vicar Apostolic of Hubei. He left Trevi on October 10th, 1867, visited Hong Kong on Nov. 30, and arrived at Wuchang, Hubei, on December 15th. By January 6th, 1868, he reached Shiyan, 400 km from the capitol, Laohekou, extremly north of the country. In 1870 he was appointed Vicar of Shiyan and five years later transferred to Lauhekou. Respected by both Christians and non-Christians, he became a friend to all classes of people. After serving the Christian communities for eighteen years, after the death of Msgr. Billi, he was made the Apostolic Administrator of Upper Hubei on June 22, 1878. In 1880, after attending the regional Synod of Hankou, he was chosen Vicar General by Msgr. Banci, the Vicar Apostolic. On July 11, 1892, he was appointed Vicar Apostolic of South Hunan and found that it was a land of struggle and sorrow. In his work of reconstruction and preaching of the faith, he encountered systematic opposition from the authorities and indifference from the people. During the widespread persecutions at the end of the century, Bishop Fantosati met martyrdom. On July 6, 1900, returning by boat to Hengyang with Fr. Gambaro, he heard the bad news of what awaited them, but he did not hesitate, saying, "If we have to die, we will die together." Nearing the city, he was told of the death of Fr. Cesidio by fire and the destruction of the church and orphanage. As they arrived, several fishing boats attacked. They knocked down the Bishop with a rudder, stoned him and beat him with sticks. He could still bless Fr. Gambaro who died after 20 minutes, but he suffered two hours of agony after he was stabbed in the back by a bamboo stick spiked with steel. He died on July 7, 1900 at the age of 58.

    Joseph M. Gambaro - Priest
    Joseph Gambaro was born on August 7, 1869, in Galliate, Novarar Province, to Pacifico and Francesca Bozzolo. From early infancy, they gave him a strong moral upbringing. His early education was in the Franciscan School of Monte Mesma in Turin, Province of San Diego. He entered the novitiate and completed his high school studies at the Friary of S.Maria delle Grazie, Voghera. Arriving in China in March of 1896, he took over the responsibility of the religious formation and program of studies for the candidates in the local seminary. After that, he was assigned to supervise the Christian community of Yongzhou, where he was welcomed with enthusiasm. His martyrdom was identical with that of his Bishop, Antonius Fantosati. However, it lasted only twenty minutes and when he regained consciousness for a while, as he made the sign of the cross and the Bishop gave him a blessing. Both died the same day, July 7th, 1900.

    Cesidio Giacomantonio - Priest
    Cesidio was born on August 30, 1873 in Fossa Aqulina, Italy. His parents were Giovanni Giacomantonio and Maria Antonucci and his baptismal name was Angelo. As a boy, he made frequent visits to the nearby Franciscan monastery of S. Angelo in Ocre, and felt God¡|s call for him to join the monastery. In 1891, his postulancy was done at St. Giuliano in Aquilina and he also made his motivate there, changing his name to Cesidio. On December 8, 1892, he made his first profession and three years later his solemn profession. In 1897, after studies in S. Guiliano, he was ordained a priest. The very next year, after a period of manasteries of Capertrano and Magliano dei Marsi, he was called to Rome by Fr. Luigi Lauer, who had promoted the Franciscan missionary outreach. There he entered the International College of St. Anthony as a candidate for the foreign missions. During the 1899 vacation, he met Fr. Luigi Sonsini in Abruzzi. This veteran apostle of China and Vicar General of Eastern Hebei Province encouraged his desire for the missions in China. In October of that year he left for the Far East with the blessing of Pope Leo XII and of Fr. Lauer, who meantime had become Minister General of the Franciscans. He arrived in Hengyang on Christmas Day. After a short rest from his journey to Haungshuawan, he was sent to a small community in the eastern part of the province. Over there, his activity and prayers prepared him for martyrdom. Less than a month later, rumors of persecutions began to circulate and the Boxer Rebels made a surprise attack on the main residence in Hengyang on July 4, 1900. Fearful that the Blessed Sacrament would be profaned, Cesidio rushed to the chapel without considering his own life in danger. The fanatic crowd wounded him with lances and sticks and wrapped him, half dead, in a blanket soaked in petrol. Thus, they set it on fire and he completed his martyrdom before he reached the age of twenty-seven.

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