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Saints John Jones and John Wall

Today we honour two Franciscan martyrs, a Welshman and an Englishman, who died ministering to their Catholic fellow countrymen in the dangerous years of the Reformation.

John Jones came from a Welsh family which had kept the Catholic faith and was born at Clynnog Fawr, Caernarfon. He became a secular priest and was twice imprisoned. During his second imprisonment he felt called to join the Franciscan Order and on his release he went to Greenwich where he received the habit of the Friars Minor. He was at this time about 60 years old. Shortly afterwards he was professed in France, and then spent some time in Rome, preparing for the dangerous task of returning to the English mission.

While in Rome he had a personal audience with Pope Clement VII, who gave him a special blessing for his work. Returning to England he worked in London and then in the countryside but after some three years he was discovered and arrested. He was imprisoned and tortured until, on 12 July 1598, he was hanged, drawn and quartered. He witnessed to his faith right to the last moment of his life. Facing the crowd, he prayed aloud to Jesus and Our Blessed Lady, and then he asked all Catholics present to say the Creed and pray for him.

John Wall was born in 1620 near Preston and was sent by his parents to be educated at the English College at Douai. He later went to study in Rome and was ordained to the priesthood in 1648. Returning to Douai, he entered the Franciscan Friary of St. Bonaventure and was professed in 1651. His fellow friars had such a high regard for him that they soon made him vicar of the friary and then novice master.

In 1656 John returned to his own country and worked as an undercover priest in Worcestershire, using several false names, for 22 years. In December 1678 he was discovered at a friend's house and imprisoned for several months. At his trial John was accused of the crimes of saying Mass, hearing confessions and receiving converts into the Church. He was sent back to prison, but offered his freedom if he would agree to give up his faith. He refused and on 22 August 1679 he was hanged, drawn and quartered. Shortly before he died, he had the consolation of making his confession and receiving communion from a fellow priest, who testified to John's brave and cheerful approach to martyrdom.

Both these men knew the risks they were taking by returning to England as Catholic priests. For them nothing was more important than serving the Catholic people of this country, bringing them the Mass and the sacraments. Their devotion to Christ was so unshakable that they would rather die than renounce their faith. The Protestant churches with government support were dismantling the Catholic faith piece by piece. They abolished several of the sacraments, forbade prayers for the dead and they denied the Real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Holy Communion came to be regarded as simply a symbolic gesture, a memorial of the Last Supper.

We Catholics today owe so much to martyrs, like John Jones and John Wall, who died proclaiming the truth. It is good to remind ourselves how they struggled to keep the faith alive in our country. Today we ask them to pray for us, that we may continue to love Christ as they did and hand on the faith to future generations.