|Devotion to Our Lady||
“Chu lai! Chu lai!”
Guang-Zhong Gu awoke in the pre-dawn hours, bathed in the sweat of a balmy Shanghai September.
Unfamiliar voices barked, “Come out! Come out!”
Lights overhead flashed on. The cold steel snap of ammo clicked into machine guns. Fists pounded at the doors lining the long corridors of the Xujiahui Seminary, normally bustling with the quiet sweep of long, black robes.
Gu, a 23-year-old third-year seminary student, leapt out of bed. Already dressed in shorts and a shirt, he stuffed his feet into a pair of shoes. No time for socks. He stumbled through the door without looking back. He’d never see the room again.
“Sit! Head down! No looking up!” shouted a plainclothes officer from the Xujiahui district police station. With arms waving and fingers pointing, they rounded up more than 150 seminarians and half-a-dozen Jesuit priests, the teachers. Although asleep only moments before, all the men were wide awake as they took their seats.
It was the early morning hours of September 8th, 1955. Fifty years ago―the date remembered, commemorated, penciled-in, and cursed as the day that the authoritarian, totalitarian Communists waited for the dark hours to arrest hundreds of boys and girls, men and women, laity and clergy.
They were criminals. They were Roman Catholics.
Officers led Gu, under arrest and in handcuffs, outside and pushed him onto one of the trucks normally used to transport coal. Still night, Gu saw nothing as he squatted down. Though there were other seminarians beside him, they were invisible in the dark. The truck lurched forward, and Gu and the others swayed with the motion. Only the roar of the engine, the grinding of the gears, and the crunch of the tires over the gravel in the road filled Gu’s ears. No one spoke.
The ride in the truck lasted ten minutes. A foot slammed down the brake pedal. It was the end of the road for him: Xujiahui district police station.
For six months, Gu sat and waited in a cell. No court, no judge, no trial. Just waiting. His crime?
Then 72 years old (now 84, if still living), Gu (which he has Westernized to Koo since coming to America) sits straight up in his office chair in the rectory of St. Leo the Great Church in San Jose, California. Eyes forward, he raises his index finger and points to an imaginary criminal in front of him. His voice takes on a tone of authority. He stabs the air with the finger as he recounts each charge―as though he’s back in prison again.
“The first charge is: Guang-Zhong Gu never recognized himself as counter-revolutionary!
“The second is: Guang-Zhong Gu joined the counter-revolutionary organization, the Legion of Mary, and resisted to resign!
“The third is: Guang-Zhong Gu never recognized Bishop Kung as counter-revolutionary!
“And Guang-Zhong Gu never recognized the Legion of Mary as counter-revolutionary organization!
“My four crimes,” Gu says, smiling, shaking his head. “My real crime? I joined the Legion of Mary.”
The formation of Legion of Mary chapters began in 1948, when the Rev. W. Aedan McGrath, an Irish missionary of the Society of St. Columban with a chapel in Shanghai, established the Catholic youth organization in several cities throughout China. Months later, with the end of the three-year Chinese civil war that followed in the wake of World War II, the Communists defeated the ruling government and took over the country.
A high school student in 1951 at St. Francis Xavier College―founded by the Marian Brothers and renowned for its high English standards―Gu, a fourth-generation Catholic blessed with the baptismal name of “Matthew,” readily joined the Legion of Mary when invited by a schoolmate.
Gu’s father, a prosperous import-export businessman with his own Zhong Xing lace company in southern Shanghai, warned his son not to get too involved in the Catholic Church.
“Communists don’t like Catholicism,” he counseled.
The Communist political party encourages atheism among its members and has never approved of the Catholic Church. Intolerant of dissenting opinions, Communists―the single-party power―will not accept the power of the Vatican in any form in China. Not only was―and still is―the practice of Catholicism in China suppressed, but so was―and still is―the ordination of priests and the consecration of bishops.
Nearly as soon as Gu joined the Legion, he felt the Communist pressure against him and the other members. Most of the young people remained faithful, and the bald show of Communist power didn’t deter the Catholic youth of Shanghai.
Not when Communists arrested McGrath September 7, 1951. Not even when, a month later, the Legion of Mary was declared a counter-revolutionary, subversive organization―an illegal society using the cloak of religion, with its members labeled spies for America.
Bishop Pin-Mei “Ignatius” Kung, who had encouraged McGrath to start up the Legion of Mary chapters in Shanghai, urged the young members to hold fast to their Faith. The Communists blasted Kung as the mastermind of a counter-revolutionary gang.
“Be strong,” Kung encouraged the Legionaries. “Do not comply with the Communists.”
“We will never surrender,” most assured him. “I will never surrender,” Gu vowed.
Communist officials in the Religious Affairs Bureau section of the government constantly monitored religious activities and selected those they wanted arrested. Names were dispatched to district police stations in the area, and officers delivered to the unlucky ones the summons to appear.
Gu was one of those unlucky ones. Once at the station, investigators circled him and ordered him to resign. Gu merely stared straight ahead. In response, police took the teen in temporary custody overnight. In the morning, as he stood motionless, officers grabbed one of his thumbs, inked it, pressed the print to a piece of paper, then set him free.
He was left alone―for a while.
For several seasons, Gu forgot about their threats and fell into the normal rhythm of life. At the age of 21, he felt the call and joined the Xujiahui seminary in 1953, the same year all foreign missionaries were expelled from China. For the next couple of years, the Communists―who declared religion useless and harmful―arrested many Catholic priests.
Then came September 8, 1955, that early morning―ironically, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary―when Gu was hauled off to the Xujiahui police station, then transferred from one detention center to the next.
One afternoon, as Gu sat on the floor with his legs crossed in front of him, his back against the wall and his eyes closed, he heard a guard call a number. Gu didn’t respond. The guard screamed, “From now on you don’t have a name!”
Gu stood up as the guard twisted his arms behind his back and led him to a dark room. “Will you pray again?” spat the guard, grabbing Gu’s hands, yanking them up behind his back. Cold, rough-hewn steel wrapped around his wrists.
“No! No!” Gu responded, in pain. When he returned to his cell, his hands remained bound behind his back for a week.
“I ate like a dog. They put food on the floor, and I ate like a dog,” Gu explains. He gets down on the office linoleum tiles, with his hands behind his back, and leans forward to demonstrate.
After a couple of months, officials transferred Gu to the Shanghai city prison in the Tilanqiao district, where each of the small cells was crammed with several men. When a man moved left, the others moved as well.
Tilanqiao. Only the worst offenders were sent to Tilan-qiao: rapists, murderers, thieves. And Catholics.
One day, he heard a guard call his number. “Yes!” answered Gu, standing and stretching his hands between the bars. The guard shook a piece of paper before him.
“This is your sentence,” the guard said.
No court. No trial. No judge. Five years in prison.
In a matter of days, Gu, along with dozens of other prisoners, was woken at 3 a.m. with the loud blast of a whistle. They were herded into several waiting buses that transported the prisoners to the Za Bei district train station―the old station in Shanghai.
Gu and the others climbed into the cattle cars that made up the long train. He didn’t know how many were in the car with him―everything was black. He doesn’t know how many days they traveled. Four, maybe five. Only bread to eat and water to drink. No windows. No light. Only scattered air vents.
But he remembers the cold. And he remembers the knee-high wooden bucket the men had to share for waste elimination.
“Just like a beer barrel,” he says, laughing.
With so many men, the mess soon overflowed and splashed to the floor. Before too long the bucket was abandoned, and the men decided to urinate out small holes that dotted the car’s wooden planks. When the steel wheels below finally stopped their constant turning, Gu heard voices and a pounding on the outside. Unable to open the door, guards used a sledgehammer to chip away the frozen urine that had sealed the great sliding door closed.
When the panel finally opened, the men blinked back the whiteness that nearly blinded them. There was snow everywhere. Inmates hopped out of the railcars and sank to their thighs in the drifts. Nonetheless, they began trudging to the prison. Miles later they arrived at Fularji brick factory, a working prison in Heilongjiang province, just one frozen breath away from Siberia.
For six months Gu made bricks in the factory, guarded by members of the People’s Liberation Army. But then on August 15th, 1956, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Gu was ordered to board a train back to Shanghai. Officials in spiffy uniforms with shiny buttons arrived in Heilongjiang to pick up the Catholics and return them to the city for their appearance in court. Gu’s five-year sentence was cancelled, all charges dropped. He would have a trial. He would wait, again, in Tilanqiao.
One day, Gu received a visitor. “I am your lawyer,” he told Gu. “Your family paid me $8, and I will help you get out of prison.”
“I didn’t ask for a lawyer,” Gu told the attorney. “I don’t want a lawyer.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I am sure. I don’t want a lawyer,” he said, thinking, All I need to do to get out of prison is to surrender. And I’ll never surrender.
On the day of his trial, Gu was transported to the Second Intermediate People’s Court, in the Xujiahui district of Shanghai.
“I walked handcuffed into court. The judge was there. They took off my cuffs. I made the sign of the cross. With 300 Catholic people in the audience and to my family, I wanted to show them that I’m still faithful to my Church, because I could not talk to them. I never surrendered.”
The judge asked Gu a few questions, shuffling papers around his desk.
After 20 minutes, the judge declared, “Case closed,” then stood up and left the courtroom.
On his way back to the truck from court, Gu passed his mother in the stairwell.
“I will see you later. I will be back home,” he said.
Gu was sent to an urban labor camp in Shanghai, where for one year―from 1956 to 1957―he dried freshly dyed socks. While there, Gu learned that he had been sentenced to three years.
Communication proved difficult between imprisoned Catholics. After lunch one day, Gu walked with a fellow seminarian, praying the rosary. While prayer was forbidden and all rosaries confiscated upon discovery, the Catholic prisoners learned to improvise. They unraveled their silk stockings, weaved the threads together, and knotted the silk.
The seminarian slipped Gu a letter. “We must be faithful to the pope,” he wrote. “We must be faithful to God.”
Gu, who still yearned to be a priest, hid the note in the folds of a cloth he used for a pillow. He didn’t think much about it, until the day he heard a guard call his number.
“Who wrote this letter?” he demanded, holding the paper in front of Gu.
“I never gave them the name,” Gu says now, remembering the ordeal. “I never betrayed my friend.”
Six months later, the guards questioned him again. “We know it’s Paul.” Gu responded, “If you know, then I don’t have to tell you.”
Because of the letter, Gu faced more charges in the summer of 1957: the intention to organize a counter-revolutionary organization in the prison.
In the winter of 1957, he learned that he had received an additional sentence of seven years, added on to the previous three-year sentence. Gu doesn’t recall if he had a trial, but he does remember being shipped to Xining, the capital city of Qinghai province, where he worked in the Qinghu machine tool works.
Four days after his arrival, someone falsely accused him of fleeing from the prison, and guards threw him into solitary confinement. For nine days, Gu remained in a dark box, no larger than a doghouse. Straw covered the floor. A small wooden door slammed open, his food shoved through the hole, then just as quickly the small door would shut. The walls were so narrow he could only stretch one arm at a time; the ceiling so low, he could only crawl. He had to eat and sleep on his own defecation.
“Just like a pig,” he says.
Once out of solitary, he worked 16 hours a day breaking rocks in the steel factory. In the same factory, hammering away at another pile of rocks, was Rev. Zhong-Liang “Joseph” Fan, the former rector of the seminary where he and Gu were arrested in 1955. At the factory, the two never saw one another.
From Qinghu, Gu was sent to three penal farms: Wongshike, Xing Zhe, and Wayuxiangka. These places of punishment are commonly known as laogai―reform-through-labor farms. There he worked―shoveling morning to night―the virgin fields atop the vast Qinghai province plateau, more than 10,000 feet high. Only grass as far as the eye could see.
The food was terrible. This was the time of the great famine, known as the Three Years of Natural Disasters (1960-1962), during which an estimated 20 million Chinese died from widespread famine. It’s largely blamed on Communist China’s first Five-Year Plan, in which the Great Leap Forward focused on the increased mass production of steel. With the numbers of peasants removed from the fields and placed in steel-making capacities, crops were left unharvested. This led to starvation.
While at Xing Zhe Farm in Qinghai, Gu’s body began to collapse. At five-foot-nine, his healthy adult weight hovered around 140 pounds. “During the Great Famine, I weighed only 81 pounds. I went to a doctor, because I couldn’t lift my leg. He started to, but couldn’t give me an injection, because I was only a skeleton.”
In 1960, five years into his imprisonment, Gu was moved to the Wayuxiangka penal farm of Qinghai province. There he continued farm work: turning the sod of virgin fields, planting wheat seed, watering fields, cutting the wheat―usually 13 hours at a stretch.
Finally, in 1965, Gu’s ten-year prison sentence was completed, and he became a “post-prisoner.”
“The government tells you your sentence is finished. You’re not prisoner anymore, but you become detained employee and receive very little money. The same place, the same work, but no guard. A prisoner has a limited sentence, but not post-prisoner. This is the policy for all prisoners at that time. You are not a prisoner anymore, but you still obey. This is the policy. There is no reason!” Gu says.
One “benefit” of being a post-prisoner is the opportunity to go home for occasional visits every four years. On one of his home visits, Gu, still faithful to his calling, learned of the underground Church.
Finding it impossible to destroy Catholicism from within, the Communists tried to eliminate it from without by establishing a government-controlled church independent of the Holy See. As early as 1949, the People’s Republic of China had established the Three-Self Reform Movement, so called for its aim to be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating.
The movement was replaced by and integrated into the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, officially founded on July 15th, 1957. Being patriotic in China meant being a revolutionary, which meant being anti-imperialist and anti-papal. As a result, Catholics were branded unpatriotic counter-revolutionaries.
Most Catholic churches in the People’s Republic of China were destroyed during the Proletarian Cultural Great Revolution, which began its spin out of control in 1966 when the government’s central committee instituted a purge of intellectuals and those considered imperialistic. This involved on-the-spot inspections, nighttime raids in homes, and public executions of so-called counter-revolutionaries, reportedly urged by Communist Party Chairman Zedong Mao.
For ten years, until Mao’s death in 1976, the purge continued. During this Chinese Reign of Terror, temples and churches were burned and ancient art and texts destroyed. Following the death of Mao, Xiaoping Deng―one of Communist China’s leaders―opened his nation to the world. For money, Gu says―especially American money.
Officials in the labor camp instituted English classes for guards, families of guards, and families of detainees who lived in the camp with their post-prisoner relatives. There was just one problem. No one spoke English but Gu. And so, still a detainee in Qinghai province, he began work as a language teacher, earning $90 a month.
During one of Gu’s home visits, he traveled to the house of Rev. Hong-Sheng “Vincent” Chu to say goodbye to the priest. While he was there, the doorbell rang.
“Did anybody see you?” Chu asked his newly arrived visitor, Rev. Sergio Ticozzi, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missionaries. Chu feared he was being watched.
“No,” answered Ticozzi.
“This is my student,” Chu said, introducing Gu. “He still keeps his vocation.”
“Come to Hong Kong,” Ticozzi told Gu. “We have a seminary there.”
“I am still in the labor camp. I cannot go to Hong Kong.”
Ticozzi scribbled down his address and handed the information to Gu. Later, while by himself, Gu took his long overcoat and turned the sleeve inside-out. He picked at the stitching and pulled at the thread, undoing a seam. Into the crease, he tucked the piece of paper with Ticozzi’s address and sewed up the opening. Gu couldn’t take the chance that the labor camp officials might find the address, as they found the earlier note from his seminarian friend. This was an address he would need.
In the summer of 1984, when Gu returned from a labor-camp street market, he noticed a commercial truck parked at the front gate. The truck was not from the camp―the driver would have no idea who he was.
Gu approached the truck feeling confident. He was wearing his teaching clothes and made certain the package of the best quality Chinese cigarettes, Dai Qian Men (big front gate), was visible in his shirt pocket.
“Can you take me to the long distance bus station, just outside the labor camp?” Gu asked the driver. “Yeah,” the driver replied, without suspicion.
Gu ran back to his room and packed his two pieces of luggage: a battered leather suitcase in one hand and a rolled-up quilt in the other.
“This is what I earned for 19 years in labor. All my treasures,” he tells me.
After 24 years at Wayuxiangka penal farm, he rode off and made his way to the Gung He Second Middle School in Qinghai province, where he had earlier met the headmaster in secret, waiting for an opportunity to escape. Finally, after decades of imprisonment, he succeeded.
For the next four years, Gu taught English at the school during the day and―still faithful to his vocation―studied theology at night. His textbooks consisted of two books Bishop Fan had given him earlier.
In February 1988, Gu visited Fan, who lived in a small room in the second story of his niece’s home in a Shanghai suburb.
“I want to be ordained,” Gu told him.
“If it’s God’s will, everything will be fulfilled,” Fan assured him.
Days later, on February 22nd, Fan ordained Guang-Zhong Gu.
“I was so happy. I rode my bicycle back home, and I think, I don’t belong to this world. Everything was foreseen,” Gu says.
Three years earlier, his brother, Le-Tian “Joseph” Gu, had moved to the United States and encouraged his brother to follow. Gu retrieved his overcoat and ripped open the seam. Ticozzi’s address was still there, and he sent it to his brother. A few months later, Gu traveled to the American consulate in Shanghai where he met a young man in charge of immigration. Gu was afraid his one opportunity to leave China was slipping away, so he took a chance.
“Please,” he begged, “I was in seminary and was arrested in 1955 with Bishop Kung, then I was in prison for ten years and labor camp for 19 years.” The young man left the room and returned a few minutes later with the verdict: Gu would be able to leave China.
Overcome with happiness, Gu sobbed. Soon, he would be in America.
As the afternoon grows late and my flight time approaches to return to Los Angeles, I ask Father Gu if he would say Mass. He leads me to a chapel on the Marian side of the church. I kneel in the first pew as he leaves to change into his alb and green chasuble. A moment later, he stands before the altar.
“I offer this Mass for the special intentions of the persecuted Church of China,” he says.
“Father, in Thy mysterious providence, Thy Church must share in the sufferings of Christ Thy Son. Give the spirit of patience and love to those who are persecuted for their Faith in Thee, that they may always be true and faithful witnesses to Thy promise of eternal life.”
For this, he gave 29 years of his life. For this, Father Guang-Zhong Gu never surrendered. What happened to the Chinese Catholics is most likely headed our way too! As Sr. Lucia said, Communism would take over America also. Will we surrender? Have we been sufficiently “softened-up” by materialism and comforts so that our backbone has degenerated?
In order to better understand the role of the Christian layman and Catholic Action in China, there are some facts concerning Chinese Christians that must be called to mind. Our focus is, more or less, directed towards the north of China, but will include other regions, as well.
One must first of all stress the great interdependence, which exists among the Christians in the small Chinese villages. It is, at first sight, an auto-defensive mechanism in the persecuted Church that persisted for nearly three centuries. At one extreme, we find the mentality of the ghetto. This attitude is still instinctively present amongst a few outspoken Orientals. It is the family, in China, that is the “the united individual” and which forms the structure of the social and political life. These small villages are often those with the large families, or where the older members have retained the authority—both civil and political.
The Church has adapted to this form of organization. The Christian parish is, in a way, a sublimation of the family, and the heads of the villages automatically become the heads of the Christian community. From this an important conclusion can be formed: the life and the fervor of the Christians—where the priest is not able to go except rarely—depends almost exclusively on the practicing laity. One must not forget, in effect, that many of the Chinese Christians only receive a visit from a priest from time to time and must habitually live without the Mass and the Sacraments.
The following fact illustrates this spirit of Chinese Christian families. A Christian lady, after days of torture, was able to take refuge in the village where she was born. The head of the village, the mother of a missionary, took her in without any question, at great danger to herself and her fellow villagers. This is just an example of the closeness of the Chinese Christian society in the countryside. These facts help us in see the possibilities of internal resistance from the Christians of China and their chances of survival in the middle of the actual persecution. Also, it indicates the marvelous role they were able to play, as lay apostles, in the mission country where the priests are proportionally 100 times less numerous than in France. China, in 1948, had 5,788 priests for a population of 450 million.
A quick examination, of the years 1900-1950, shows that the activity of the catechists and of the Catholic Action led to the forthcoming and providential growth of the Legion of Mary in China.
In the first period, from the year 1900 to 1920, the Catholic population rose from 727,000 to 2,000,000, while the number of Chinese priests increased from 474 to more than 950. This movement of conversions was achieved, largely, by the work of the catechists—men and women, formed in the Mission schools. The apostolic fruits of the Legionaries varied according to the zeal and the spirit of the missionary team. Certain catechists, who considered their function like the extension of the priesthood, formed the best Christians in China. Christianity, generally, is only as good as the Catechist giving the instruction. But, when the catechists considered themselves as mercenaries, this system only came to be known as “Rice-bowl Christianity”—where instruction was only given to gain material benefits.
The second period extended from 1920 until the arrival of the Communists. This period saw the birth of the Catholic Action and, in particular, of a specialized Catholic Action, according to the message of Pius XI to the Church of China on the 1st of August 1928. From 1929, there existed 200 groups of Catholic Action and 30 groups of the Young Catholics. This movement of Catholic Action galvanized and raised up the Christian people, launching them towards a spiritual conquest. Almost everywhere the ghetto spirit, which still stigmatized the council of Shanghai in 1924, disappeared. Towards 1930, a great enthusiasm took hold of the youth in the schools. It is during this period that universities and Catholic secondary schools began to indulge in works of charity, publish magazines and open their doors to the local population, giving free and popular evening courses. In the larger villages like Shanghai, some groups of the Young Catholics were also founded. In the countryside, the members of Catholic Action often found solid conquests, thanks to their perfect knowledge in the middle of widespread disinterestedness.
Without a doubt, Fr. Lebbe, with the first congress of influential laity and the foundation of the journal The Public Good (I Shih Pao), which, from the war of 1914 onwards, showed itself to be a precursor, for what to take in Northern China in years to come. In Shanghai, always ahead of the rest of the country, Catholic Action saw an early and notable development under the influence of its president, Lo Pahong. He was a big industrialist and friend of the poor, a builder of schools and hospitals. He was also the founder, together with his team of “Week-End Catechists”, of numerous Christian communities in the surrounding villages—a real militant and one of the most illustrious sons of the Chinese laity, during the greater part of 25 years. He was assassinated in January of 1938, whilst performing one last act of charity—buying some oranges for the poor. The Bureau of the Catholic Action of Shanghai announced that he had himself influenced over 335,000 baptisms. He had, as President of the Catholic Action, served on the tribune with 25 bishops, 50 chaplains and 150 delegates with the grand congress of Catholic Action of 1935.
During the Japanese war, in occupied China, the militants of Catholic Action increasingly had to help the priest—and even replace him on occasions—in order to maintain Christian life and achieve apostolic conquests throughout China. In this way they were being prepared for the role they would have play under the oppression of the future Communist regime.
The Third Period
Finally, in the third period, under the Communist regime, the militants of the Catholic Action would be more and more responsible, sometimes solely responsible, for maintaining Christian life and for apostolic conquests throughout China. They worked undercover or in the open, following the dictates of circumstances. The life and survival of the Church largely owed itself to their devotion and heroism.
The Legion of Mary
A little before the Communists overran China, a new form of Catholic Action was implanted in China: the Legion of Mary. Monsignor Riberi instructed Fr. Aeden McGrath, a St. Columban priest, to establish it throughout China. From 1948 the first Praesidia were founded. The Legion of Mary often replaced Catholic Action groups. In developing the love of the Blessed Virgin and the missionary zeal in its members, the Legion formed many excellent apostles in China. His success attracted the attention of the Communists, who made the Legion of Mary an especial object of persecution.
A Bloody Petition
The Communist government firstly dissolved the Legion in Tientsin, on the 13th of July in 1951, and then they tried to do the same throughout the rest of China. All Legionaries were ordered to register with the government and repudiate the Legion as an American espionage organization. The majority of them refused and, in Shanghai, resistance was particularly intense. The Communists, whose principle is not to dig in one’s heels when faced by an obstacle, substituted a new formula for the first.
The second formula was cleverly and insidiously phrased: Legionaries could register with the government without apparent apostasy. This formula had the desired effect and began to divide Catholics. “Why refuse a declaration which seemed to be without sin?” asked some Catholics. Is it useful or wise to exasperate our adversaries? But the students in Aurora and Shanghai judged otherwise. For them, it was clear: to register was to open a breach in the wall of resistance. With their blood, 60 members of the Legion signed a filial petition addressed to their bishop, beseeching him not to tolerate the proposed compromise. He was going to refuse it all. All were following the energetic direction of their bishop. Their bloody signature guaranteed this. What a relief to Monsignor Kiung, who was able to show the timid this bloody petition and tell them simply: “Are you less courageous than these young men and young ladies?”
The Legion of Mary in the Village
The Legion of Mary did not only take root in the cities; in certain places it even penetrated some of the smallest villages. A parish priest, in southwest China, told us how he established it in his village, without too much difficulty, in July of 1950.
After a long preparation and fierce opposition, a Legion Praesidium was founded in the village. Individualists, never having envisioned the possibility of work in common―especially in the mixed male-female, the strong-willed who keep from everybody their intentions and do not involve the parish priest.
One young girl and then another asked if they could join the Legion, followed shortly after by two men, then a young widow came forward and lastly a married lady. All in all, six volunteers. The numbers were sufficient to start a Praesidium, but the women were rather young. Some of the mixed meetings, even those of prayer, and even often in the presence of the priest, would not pass the helm of public opinion. Three lady catechists were determined to reassure the barriers between the sexes that still existed—from the Communists to whom they had fallen.
Never had one seen a mixed meeting, neither had the meeting been held outside the offices of the church. Also, the first meeting was held in public. After taking their places around the table, upon which was the throne of Our Lady’s statue. In the middle of a vast and curious circle, the Legionaries felt ill at ease, and the women blushed crimson. But they followed along with the prayer ritual and the atmosphere was created while all embarrassment and discomfort disappeared. This public meeting squelched all opposition. The real work began the following week in the ordinary, private meeting. From the beginning, the individuals showed perfect cohesion. They set to work without fear, with a sincere and complete devotion. After a month of breaking in, they acquired the reflexes that were essential for Legionaries.
The discipline of the Legion was observed strictly; the work was not interrupted, even in a period of heavy agricultural labor. These people had said and repeated that they did not have time to consecrate to the active apostolate; at present they were taking their rest. The recruitment was slow. However, six months later, five new members joined the initial six. Among these newer members, one was a neophyte and two were young female catechists by which the narrow-mindedness and a meanness that opposed the action of the parish priest. Their conversation was sincere. After having protested for two years: “It is beneath us to mingle with the pagans and the bad Christians”, they are going to be among the most active Legionaries and will prove to have supernatural spirit in the face of storms, by their admirable courage and humility. The case of these catechists is typical of the growth in numbers of the faithful under the influence of the Legion.
The was no misunderstanding among the Legionaries themselves, but there were temptations to discouragement. In the neighboring towns, the Legion enlisted with spectacular success, aligned impressive lists of baptisms: two hundred in six months for a single district. Besides, these Praesidia were trying without cease: in the same duration of six months a parish had founded nine Praesidia and one curia. The priest limited himself solely to the role of spiritual director while the initiatives and active responsibility pertained to the legionaries. But the difficulties were left for the missionary to insist upon the Legion Spirit of humility, self-renouncement and a unique dependence upon Mary. They began to understand that the success of the Legion depended less upon themselves and more upon what was given them supernaturally.
The Grain Grows
This work produced many fruits in the district and even in the homes of the legionaries, as well. Otherwise, the two-thirds of those who approached the Sacraments three or four times a year. Soon, they began to communicate on all the feasts of the Blessed Virgin, then in a little time, more than half had come to communicate on all the Sundays of the year, and several became daily communicants. The majority of them assisted at Mass daily and some did not miss making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament on a daily basis, too.
Their progress was completely personal, a fruit of an instinctive, profound need. They were no longer slow in completing their religious instruction and began to ask for classes on doctrine. Their apostolic outlook developed and translated by the care of understanding all of the occasions of contact with as many catechumens as possible.
Every Sunday, two legionaries stood in front of the church in order to make contact with non-Catholics, and to converse with them in order to explain the nature and the meaning of the ceremonies and prayers. Rapidly, some of these non-Catholics began to assist at the Office and some even began to assist regularly at Sunday Mass. One Christmas some sixty non-Catholics assisted at the Mass, and the Christians understood the happiness of their Faith of light and joy.
In literature a hero is defined as the most important man or woman in the story of a novel, play etc., especially if he is good or noble. In the story of our lives, we too, can be heroic, when we live our lives solely, for Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Too often, we think that heroes of Faith are only those who are able to withstand terrible persecution and physical torment. These select few must be beheaded or burned at the stake to qualify as being heroically virtuous. Yet, day to day, we pass by our own personal “guillotines” of self-sacrifice and completely miss the “stakes” set aside for us upon which God wishes us to burn with heroic charity for love of Him.
Martyrdom of the body necessarily includes these outward, obvious acts of complete personal generosity and they certainly are heroic by every definition of the word. Our Lord and Creator calls all of us to this perfect love, in different ways, manifested to us daily. What is one to say concerning the inward tribulations or the unwavering perseverance in virtue, suffered willingly by many faithful as a sort of spiritual martyrdom? These too, are heroes or heroines, in the eyes of our Blessed Mother, suffered for her Son. In this way, we imitate the spiritual martyrdom that she, too, underwent.
Just as any particular body of people needs a governing unit, the spiritual and mystical body of Christ has a dire need of the same. This governing body is the Catholic Church, and in this Church, there are many different possibilities offered to serve as a loyal and faithful citizen of Heaven in the royal service of Our Lord. One such way is offered in the branch of service known as the Legion of Mary. Open to all, it is an apostolate of active work, non-political in nature, charitable in its outlook, and a unit of controlled work, governed by Our Lady, so as to be in the forefront of the Church’s battle.
Example of Heroism
One short example of legionary heroism occurred in our time and is described by a priest in China as he discussed the persecution that occurred there. In 1937, the Communists had not been in China very long when they realized that the Chinese Catholics’ devotion to Our Lady was so ardent. They realized their greatest enemy in the Church was the Legion of Mary. In a short period, ninety dioceses housed Legion Praesidia. This particular priest set them up in a smattering of places and moved quickly from place to place. He followed the motto: “Leave it to them and leave it to Our Lady.”
This priest traveled over many parts of China until he reached Chungking where he remained. In only a month after he arrived there, the Communists wanted to destroy the Legion. He protested and said, “You cannot stop this; this is a religious organization!” He gave them a Legion handbook to read. In a single week, the Communists soldiers had read and digested the entire handbook and stated that the organization was wonderful, just like Communism!
The Clash of the Spiritual and Material
This comment might seem a frightful compliment, yet it was in the set-up of the organization of the Legion in which they saw something that answered modern needs, like their own system did. Both were powerful systems of conversion with one difference, the Legion worked for the conversion of souls for spiritual wealth.
Both had a “master-and-apprentice” system, weekly meetings, and detailed work assignments. They even had the same colors of the Legion! Their red symbolized communism itself, and the red of the Legion was that of the Holy Ghost.
The Communists’ policy was that of infiltration, but they desired no one to infiltrate, save themselves. The one thing that they did not understand and ignored, as a result of their ignorance, was the Spirit of the Legion and devotion to Our Lady. They skipped these pages in their reading, deeming them unimportant. But ah! It was precisely this devotion that they could not appreciate which gave Legion its necessary fuel to continue.
Being able to identify one’s most fearful enemy is a strategic point in any war. The Communists thus identified the Legion as this and designed a brilliant scheme to crush the organization into submission, using it afterward to set up the schismatic church. The Legion, to them, was the perfect instrument to do this, if they could bend it to their wills.
The terror campaign was conducted by Communists throughout China whose goal it was to intimidate the legionaries. Many of these legionaries were just boys and girls, men and women, who came from lovely homes in Shanghai. This wealthy city housed these fearless legionaries who were wealthy and had plenty to lose. They had all been educated by the schools of the Sacred Heart, Jesuits and the Marists. Some were even newly baptized into the Faith, and their families begged them to give up membership in the Legion so that their families would not get into trouble.
The priest prayed to get out of China and said the Stations of the Cross daily to ask God for the strength from the Passion of Christ. Working towards the laurel wreath of martyrdom for the Faith, the priest prayed, “O God Who died for love of me, may I die for love of Thee.” He saw that he was totally scared to die and felt such a hypocrite saying that prayer. Suddenly, he changed his prayer to: “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me, yet let not my will but Thine be done.”
The priest remembered his young legionaries in Shanghai, who knew the tortures that were being done and yet did not diminish their efforts in the Legion. He knew as well as they that these young legionaries could be arrested at any time. In order to accustom themselves for possible hardships, they began to sleep on the floors.
Many arrests were made after several police stations were set up for the purpose of attacking the Legion and its members. Officers took the names of legionaries. These “registered” members of this “secret and reactionary” organization were threatened with imprisonment and even death. Some of the very young members were dragged before the police but did not waver though long interrogations and threats. Homes of the active members and legionaries were visited. During this time of persecution, nearly 1,000 members were executed. In the mind of the priest, it was the training they received in the Legion which brought so much grace to these young people and gave them the strength to suffer.
God gives and offers this grace to all of us for He told us, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” God gives us opportunities to show our love for Him and when challenging temptations arise, His grace is there to strengthen. With His grace, all things are possible. Heroic lives must be lead by all of us by devoting ourselves unreservedly to Our Lady. With her, through her and in her, our simple actions are made heroic.
Because I was a niece of Bishop Kung and because I had never acknowledged any crime, I was under constant surveillance. I was a model worker. My productivity was among the highest in the group. I conformed to all regulations. I somehow succeeded in separating my work and my alleged crimes as two separate issues. But this did not earn me any leniency from my country.
Looking back, those eight years of hard labor and the constant “struggle” sessions robbed me of the prime of my life. Although I knew I was doing all this for God, I despised and hated the camp which was barren of culture, music, humanity, and friendliness. I was exhausted and depressed by the endless brain-washing and “struggle.” I was completely homesick.
At the same time, I realized that to be released would not solve my problems. Ex-prisoners were social outcasts. I was condemned for life and would always be at the bottom of society. I thought of my brother Joseph’s early invitation to come to the United States. Would that ever be possible now? I was very tired and depressed. Oh Lord! Please give me strength, faith and hope!
Four months before the end of my eight years sentence, the Cultural Revolution began. The camp officers started surprise searches in all cells. Some years back, I had come across a few verses which inspired me. I copied them in a little notebook. I tucked the notebook away and forgot about that. During a surprise search, they found the notebook. They singled me out and made an example of me for other prisoners. They put me through many more struggle sessions, even took me to the court. I was afraid that my sentence would be extended. I was isolated. Most of the inmates were afraid to be near me.
In the morning of September 12th, 1996, I was told that I would be transferred to another labor camp. I was stunned. Because this meant that my prison sentence would not be extended after all. Thank God. I took a deep breath and looked at the beautiful blue sky. Suddenly, everything became so beautiful.
Now, I must clarify that being released from prison did not mean freedom for me. I was not on my way home. No. I was simply transferred from a heavily guarded prison camp to a less secured labor camp.
Rules in that labor camp were a little easier. We had wages of about six U.S. dollars a month. Out of the six dollars, three dollars were deducted for our ration. Sounds like a real bargain, doesn’t it? We had to buy all our personal necessities out of that remaining three dollars each month! We received three weeks off to visit families each year. Otherwise, we were not allowed to step outside the camp. Our mail was all censored. One could only get married with the approval of the labor camp officer. We were not allowed to exchange any material things. And, I repeat, no material things were allowed to be exchanged among camp mates.
Catherine Ho who is the author of Many Waters (printed by Caritas Printing Training Center, Hong Kong 1988) was with me in the same camp. (In fact, I was the girl whom she called Xiaolong in her book). In May 1968, two years after I had been in this new camp, I received a parcel from my family. I told Catherine about this parcel. Immediately, an inmate accused me of giving something to Catherine. I strongly denied that. I was dragged to the office. Without any investigation, the officer assembled the entire camp to start a “struggle session” against me.
In the session, the officer suddenly asked me whether I had committed my alleged original crime leading to my 8 year sentence. I was stunned. It then dawned on me that this “struggle session” was in fact pre-arranged. The parcel was only a pretense. Their real motive was once again to force me to admit all my alleged crimes. Therefore, I replied firmly: “I did not commit any crimes.” Immediately, two people jumped on me and cut off half of my hair. The officer again asked: “Are you guilty?” I firmly replied: “No”.
Two people then used a rope to tie my hands backwards tightly. It was connected to a loop around my shoulder and underneath my armpits. It was knotted in such a way that a slight movement of my hands would cause intense pain. They ordered Catherine to stand next to me. The Government often tried to alienate Catholics in that way. The struggle session lasted for two hours. Afterwards, they untied me and handcuffed me instead. The handcuffs became a part of me for the next one hundred days and nights.
After I was untied, I felt such pain that it seemed that all my bones were broken. I had bruises all over. I was very indignant over such inhuman treatment. I did not sleep that night. Therefore, I washed and ate with my cuffs on. I worked in the field with my cuffs on. I was followed every minute. Anyone who dared even to smile at me was punished. Working under 95 degree heat in the field, I was not allowed to wear a hat. I could not bathe or change my clothes with my cuffs on. My clothes would get soaking wet from perspiration, would dry and only to get wet again. I smelled worse than a skunk. Every night was another “struggle (accusatory) session”. Everyone was encouraged to insult me. I, in fact, became a prisoner again without a trial and without anyone outside knowing it.
I could not appeal. I could not escape. I was isolated. I was too sad to cry. I hoped I would die. I could not commit suicide. But I could pray for the gift of death. So, when I was tortured, I hoped that I would be tortured more so that I could die suddenly. When I was ordered to carry things on my shoulder, I hoped that they would give me more to carry so that I could suddenly collapse. But, not only I did not die, I did not even get sick.
I spent my days and months working in the field with my hands cuffed. My sufferings became unbearable. Where are you, my Lord? I questioned Divine Providence. O Lord, for the last ten years, I struggled and suffered. Haven’t I already proved myself to you? Let me die, my Lord.
In the summer, we had a two-hour rest at noon. Almost everyone took the opportunity to sleep. I was too distressed to sleep. In the field were wooden barrels used as toilets. All waste was accumulated inside to be used later as fertilizer. The place smelled foul and was filthy beyond description. No one would go there longer than necessary. Certainly not the camp officers.
I found my haven right there in that stinky toilet. It was quiet and peaceful. There no one would come to accuse me. Once in a while, some kind people would secretly come with a wet towel to clean my face and rub my back. I could not do it myself because my hands were still cuffed. Several people came to apologize for accusing me, because they were under pressure. Their good intentions and sympathy moved me to tears.
When I was handcuffed in the beginning, I was the only target they attacked. They attacked me physically and verbally. Finding that I did not give in, they extended their target to include the Catholic Church. They would use foul language to insult the Church, insult God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. I was extremely saddened by their direct assault against our beloved God.
I prayed for my death, but it was not granted. I was afraid that I might not be able to endure much longer. I could no longer tolerate those foul languages day and night against God and against the Holy Mother. I finally admitted one of my alleged crimes, as written in the court paper. I admitted that it was counter-revolutionary to persuade children not to join the communist youth organization, but I continued to refuse to submit any names of religious organizations and their religious activities. Nevertheless, that was enough for the camp officer to claim victory over me. My cuffs were finally taken off.
This episode, of my being cuffed, was only one incident. There were many others. For instance, there were times we did not have enough to eat. In desperation, we dug out the roots of a certain tree, grounded them into powder and ate it.
In 1969, I was transferred to another labor camp. I harvested tea-leaves and vegetables. Frequently, I had to carry almost 150 pounds of vegetables on my shoulder. In the winter, I was ordered to the mountain about 20 miles away to gather fire wood. Somehow, I began to prefer this kind of labor, although it was very hard. Because to work in the mountain was to be absent from camp.
Whenever I thought of the future, I became extremely depressed. I felt that I might never live to see the revival of the Catholic Church in China. I had nothing to look forward to. I was very lonely. Before long, several years had passed.
For six years, my annual home visit privileges were taken away. In 1972, after 14 years, I was finally allowed to visit home. When I was home in Shanghai, I discovered that the underground Catholic Church flourished. I even went to attend an underground Mass. The city authority refused to register me as a resident of Shanghai. That meant I had nowhere to go, but to return to the labor camp once my leave was up.
In the second half of 1974, I met Ignatius Chu, who eventually became my husband. He was sent to jail three years before I was and for the same reasons. He too was transferred to hard labor. I knew him before, but had not seen him for some twenty years. We both grew much older. It must be God’s providence that we met again. At that time, conditions at the camp were a little better. We were allowed to talk to each other. After six months, we decided to get married.
At that time, I received, from my brother Joseph, a copy of the approval of his petition for me to immigrate to the United States. Ignatius indicated his willingness to accompany me. Ignatius has a family of eight brothers. With the exception of his brother Father Michael Chu, a Jesuit, who was out of China when China turned Communist, all other seven brothers were, at one time or another, in various jails for their faith. At that time, he still had four other brothers, plus himself, in the labor camps. It was most unlikely that his passport would be approved.
To marry Ignatius would jeopardize my chances of getting my passport. Ignatius would not want to drag me into his family situation. We wanted to marry. But I also wanted to go to the United States. I wanted both. After much discussions and praying together, we decided to get married on February 11th, 1976, on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The marriage plan was a secret in labor camp. We invited Ignatius eldest brother, Father Francis Chu, also a Jesuit, to come to Shanghai to marry us. Father Francis was in another labor camp at that time.
We both took home leave in February and hoped to get married in Shanghai. Father Francis also applied for permission to go home. Unfortunately, Father Francis did not receive the permission in time. By the time Father Francis finally arrived in Shanghai, we were back to our camps. So, Father Francis came to us. Ignatius and I faked illness that day and received permission to go to the clinic. Instead, we went to the train station to meet with Father Francis. From there, we went to a small restaurant.
At the dinner table in the middle of a noisy restaurant, Father Francis took out some bread and few drops of wine. He offered, in secret, a short Mass and performed our marriage ceremony with our exchange of marriage vows. We were finally married before God. There were no flowers. There was no music, no guests, and no ring. All we had was God’s blessings. That was more than enough for us. After dinner, having taken Father Francis back to the train station, we went back to our separate dormitories, pretending that nothing had happened.
Here I would like to add that Father Francis died in prison in 1983, as a martyr, after his second arrest. He was 70 years old. He spent a total of 30 years in prison and labor camp.
After my marriage, I started applying for my passport. But the officers of the camp refused to give me permission to proceed.
In the meantime, my brother Joseph started a letter-writing campaign. He wrote to Public Security Department, Overseas Chinese Association, Reformation Department, Foreign Affair Department and other departments and organizations. Finally, in August 1978, I was contacted by the Public Security Department. They rejected my passport application.
To test the attitude of the government towards us, we registered our marriage with the Government and it was approved on October 3rd, 1978. Two and one half months later, the US-China relation was normalized. In July 1979, we were notified that our passport applications were approved. It took us 39 months to obtain our passports. I was exuberated.
Finally, on September 5th, 1979, Ignatius and I walked across the border bridge and stepped onto the soil of freedom in Hong Kong. Ten months later, on July 10, 1980, Ignatius and I arrived in the United States with my brother Joseph waiting for me at the Kennedy Airport. I started my second life.
I beg you to pray for China. The Roman Catholic Church is still under persecution. The Government is still putting bishops and other religious and the faithful in jail. It has destroyed our churches and the Marian Shrine. We not only need your prayers; we also need your action as suggested in the June issue of the Cardinal Kung Foundation’s newsletter. The underground Roman Catholic Church needs your voice and organized action to secure for them the religious freedom that we all enjoy here. Please also remember the Government sponsored Patriotic Catholic Church is not really a Catholic Church. It is an agency of the Chinese Government. It does not recognize the authority of our beloved Holy Father.
Finally, let me take this opportunity to thank our Almighty God for protecting and carrying me in my ordeals. I pray that He will continue to protect me, my family and friends as well.
This is a true-life experience of the author. She spent 23 years in jail and in the labor camp. In 1979, while still in the labor camp, Margaret, almost miraculously, received permission to leave China to join her brother, Joseph Kung, in America. Margaret shares her experience with you to give you more insight into the condition of the thousands of Catholics in China. Here follows the account in the words of Margaret Chu herself,
In China, there were tens of thousands of silent martyrs who died namelessly during the struggles. Many are still in jail. They suffered discrimination and poverty as ex-prisoners. The difference between those thousands of unsung heroes and I is that I was blessed with the opportunity of coming to this great country, the United States of America. I was reunited with my family. I can now practice my religion freely. The others did not have this opportunity.
I was fortunate to be born in a family of many generations Catholic. When I was a child, I had no deep understanding of religion. Religion was simply a way of life for me.
In 1949, I was in my early teens, full of hope dreaming of a great future filled with love, freedom, opportunity and a great career. Then, China turned red.
According to Communist teaching, “religion is the opium of the people”. Therefore, to be a Chinese and a Catholic at that time was a very serious challenge. Suddenly, Catholics had to decide whether to follow God’s law or to follow the government’s anti-Catholic policy. To follow God meant prison. To follow the government meant security and opportunity for education and a job. It was a difficult and painful choice. With God’s grace, thousands of Catholics courageously chose God.
The leader of the Shanghai Catholic Diocese since 1950 was Bishop Ignatius Kung Pin-mei. In fact, he was the Bishop of three Dioceses including Nanking, the old Chinese capital, and Soochow. In the beginning of the Communist regime, the government continued to give the church some limited freedom. It hoped to win Bishop Kung’s cooperation to form a state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Church independent of Vatican. After five years of increasing pressure without success, the government changed its tactic.
September 8, 1955 will always be remembered as the darkest day of persecutions in Shanghai. Maybe I should say as the glorious day when so many Chinese Martyrs were made. On this quiet night, in one swift operation, the Communist government paralyzed the Shanghai Diocese. Bishop Kung, together with hundreds of priests, nuns and lay Catholics were arrested. The seminary was closed. Many Catholics were placed under house arrest and must report to the police station daily for re-education (brainwashing).
I was not arrested on September 8th, 1955, but I had to attend the brainwashing meeting every day. Most of those at the meetings belonged to my parish. We were not allowed to talk to each other. However, our presence gave each other moral support.
In the brainwashing session, the government wanted us to sign a declaration stating that Bishop Kung was the leader of the counter-revolutionary gang dedicated to overturn the communist government. We had to report on all religious organizations, the names of their members and their activities.
Those who buckled under the pressure and signed the declaration were set free. They were restored all jobs and educational privileges. However, those who followed their conscience and followed the Church were dismissed from their jobs. They were not allowed to attend university and finally ended in prison.
I love Jesus, my Lord. I love my church. I love and respect my priests. I also love my friends. Before the September 8th crackdown, for five years the government already suppressed us. But, we struggled together. We prayed together. We cried together. To ask me to betray my beloved Bishop, priests, and friends, and to ask me to support the government’s persecution of the Catholic Church, was to ask me to abandon my faith and to betray my Lord. No. No. My faith did not allow me to betray my God. My love for my friends made it impossible for me to betray them.
Therefore, in front of police interrogators, I refused to participate and remained completely silent. While they read their propaganda, I simply prayed in my heart. It worked for a short while.
The government gradually stepped up the pressure on us. Within two months, many of those priests who were still free signed a declaration supporting the government’s action to charge Bishop Kung with high treason.
I was young and innocent. I had unquestionable faith for all priests. It never occurred to me that they would give in so quickly to the government’s pressure and betray their own bishop and the Church.
I was particularly shocked when I learned what my spiritual director, Father Aloysius Jin, S.J., had done after his arrest. He was a very eloquent priest, the Rector of the Shanghai Seminary, and had great influence among the faithful. Soon after he was arrested, he recorded a tape to persuade loyal Catholics to support the government. This tape was used for broadcast in many prisons. Many of my friends heard this tape in jail.
Father Jin is none other than the current illegitimate bishop of Shanghai of the Patriotic Association. That was indeed a great blow to the Shanghai diocese and to me personally. At a time when I most needed spiritual support and consolation, I was left entirely alone without any priests in whom I could trust.
I realized that many Catholics who signed the declaration needed jobs or wanted to go to university. I too needed a good job. I also wanted badly to go to the university. But I could not give up everything I believed in. I refused to sign the declaration.
After six months, thinking that it had crippled the Catholic Church, the government relaxed its persecution. Many Catholics were released in early 1956. I too was allowed to leave my house. I got a temporary job as a medical lab-assistant and submitted application for admission to a university. I did very well in my job. The lab director wanted to offer me a full time position. However, when the Director found out about my religious background, I was fired. On top of that, regardless of my high scores in the entrance examination, my application to university was also rejected.
Because I was a niece of Bishop Kung, because I refused to betray my Church, I was considered by the government to be a high political risk and was thereby condemned.
After the September 8th mass arrest in 1955, we became a flock without a shepherd. Churches were still open, and Holy Masses were still celebrated. However, the fervent atmosphere was changed. There was serious mistrust between all levels of the Church. Many Catholics, including I, refused to receive Holy Sacraments from those priests who had publicly renounced the Church and betrayed the Bishop. At the same time, we had no spiritual support. We were lonely and isolated. We could only pray privately among friends.
God did not abandon us.
At that time, I met a priest, Father Koo, who was under house arrest. In the spring of 1956, he was allowed to say public Mass in a small chapel, but not preach. To find a loyal priest was like finding a light in the midst of the dark raging sea. I found my light. Although the chapel was far from my house, I attended his Mass daily and received grace and consolation in his confessional. Before long, more and more people came to attend his Mass. As a result, the authorities closed the chapel after a few months.
A Trappist nun helped us to maintain contacts with Father Koo. We hand-copied his sermons and distributed them to the faithful. Holy Communion was sent to the nun’s house and was distributed. Father Koo heard confessions in the park or while walking on a busy street. Once, we even secretly organized a pilgrimage to She-Shan, a national Marian Shrine near Shanghai. Father Koo’s sermons were distributed even to other cities. It was truly a very risky yet rewarding time. This, in fact, was the beginning of the underground Catholic Church in China, and I was blessed to be a small part of it.
We never wanted to oppose the government. All we wanted was to keep our faith. We had no experience in political struggle. We never suspected that the government would plant a spy among us. As this spy came to us through the introduction of that good Trappist Nun, we blindly trusted her. She joined every religious activities organized by us. Several times she asked me to mail Father Ko’s sermons to her friends. Like a fool, I did. Those addresses were fake. The Public Security Officers intercepted them all. These materials would later become the government’s proof of my accused crimes. In addition, the spy reported to the authorities the location of a wanted Catholic in hiding. This person was later arrested.
In the early morning of May 28th, 1958, about ten people from the Patriotic Association broke into my house. They grabbed my hands and feet, and dragged me to a study meeting, organized by the Patriotic Association. That study meeting lasted several days in a dormitory.
There were many other Catholics also dragged to the study group. The Association wanted to brainwash us to think that we had joined this meeting of our own free will. They waged a smear campaign against the church to force us to renounce the Pope. I was criticized, scolded, and jeered at by many people. I prayed my rosary quietly and ignored the commotion, and insults.
During the “study (struggle) meeting,” I determined that my position must be complete reliance on God. I meditated on Christ’s words to St. Peter “Your are the rock. Upon this rock I will build my Church.” I reminded myself that denouncing the Pope was the same as leaving Christ. I decided that I would rather die than leave Him.
After three days of “struggle (accusatory session),” an officer of the state religious bureau asked if I had come to the study group of my own free will. I replied: “Hell, no! I did not want to come. Your people dragged me here.” The officer replied; “You may now go home. But you will be responsible for your future activities.” I never ran faster in my life than out of that compound.
I felt great peace and joy after I left the session, because I was able to hold on to my own principle. However, I was truly scared of the prospects of imprisonment and labor camp. I was not sure how long I could endure and hold onto my own principles. I begged God to give me enough strength to accept any suffering which I might be made to endure. I prayed and prayed and waited. I was prepared for their future action.
Three months after that forced “religious” study session, I was arrested and jailed on September 12th, 1958. I was 22. It was the beginning of my 21 years of jail and labor camp.
My first feeling when I stepped into my cell was to feel nausea. The cell was about 250 square feet, housing sixteen prisoners. There was only one very small window. There was a strong body odor from those cell-mates who obviously had not washed for a long time. There were human wastes collected in a corner of our cell. Everything was simply suffocating. I thought of my family at home and my brother Joseph in the United States. The pain of separation was intense. I was psychologically less prepared than I had thought.
I met several Catholic acquaintances in the cell and began socializing with them. Guess what? I was accused by my jailers for influencing others and was transferred to another cell in the male section. Again, I met a male Catholic. Wherever I was transferred, I found other Catholics nearby.
After two months, without a trial, I was sentenced to eight years imprisonment as a counter-revolutionary, because I participated in many religious activities.
I was naïve enough to think that since the government had what they wanted, they would leave me alone to serve my sentence. I thought that my religious and psychological struggle was over. I thought that I could enjoy God’s grace in peace during my sentence. I was entirely wrong. My struggle had just begun.
After my sentence, I was sent to a transit jail, waiting to be dispatched to the prisoner labor camp. We had seven people in one cell, sharing three beds. Four of them slept on the concrete floor, partly under the beds. It was winter. There was absolutely no heat. The cell was very drafty and freezing cold. We had two stone cold meals a day. I started experiencing stomach aches and cramps.
My family was once allowed to visit me. While waiting in line, I said a few words to another Catholic. An inmate reported me. Consequently, my scheduled visit with my family was abruptly canceled. All prisoners were allowed to shower once a month, but not Catholics. Somehow, we Catholic prisoners still managed to keep communicating among ourselves secretly.
After staying in this transit prison for about a month, I was sent to a prison knitting factory, about 100 miles from Shanghai. My family came to bid me goodbye. From them, I learned that two of my good friends had died shortly after they were sent to the Camp. This news shocked me. I could not understand why anyone should die after a brief period in the Camp. What was the camp really like?
In the prison factory, we worked 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. The drums awoke us at four o’clock every morning. In a short time, I lost my appetite, because of extreme fatigue. At night I collapsed on my bed, without even washing my face. This routine lasted for an entire year.
A few days after I arrived in the prison, an officer asked me: “What is your crime?” I snapped back: “I did not commit any crime. I was arrested because I am a Catholic and I determined to keep my faith.” The officer became very angry and shouted at me: “If you did not commit any crime, why are you here?” His extreme anger shocked me. I fell silent. The whole factory was dead silent.
Because of this incident, I discovered several Catholics. We quickly united. Among them was a girl named Tsou who was turned-in by a priest in the government sponsored Patriotic Association. She was especially good to me. Unfortunately, after four years, she had mental breakdown. The officer even used her mental condition as a violation of prison regulations. They tied her. They hung her up and beat her. They extended her sentence twice. Although she has already completed her sentence, she is still in the labor camp without proper care.
After a year, the government changed the 18 hour shift to 10 hour shift. However, there were two hours of daily political re-education. At year’s-end, we were all required to write a self-assessment on how our political thinking had improved through labor. Those who refused to admit their crimes in the self-assessment were often isolated from other prisoners.
Now, I could go on all evening with these stories. Can you see what I mean? The Communist, with his foresight, is not afraid of the man with a gun, if he is not a Christian. He is afraid of nothing. Nothing. No principles. Not afraid of the atomic bomb, as they said, “Who is afraid of the atomic bomb? Certainly not China.” If they dropped half-a-dozen in China, we wouldn’t hear them. Drop half-a-dozen elsewhere, it would be another story. Can you see why they are not afraid of the Powers? Why, all they want is peace! They talk about peace! Ready for war, but they talk about peace, and infiltrate! It’s a wonderful system!
Yet, how they can do nothing with the Legion president, or the little doctor, or Joanna, or Noelle. What can you do with them? Lock them up in a cell. You let them out and they will continue to talk about God and His holy Mother. They will spread the very thing the Communists are trying to crush. They are not only useless to the Communist system, they are a menace!
There it is! Let us learn a lesson from them. We needn’t go anywhere else. Spiritual values and principles, we are bound to those! No wonder the Holy Father has opened the flood gates of spiritual values, Communion, evening Mass. We see there His foresight. He called upon the lay apostolate fifty years ago, seeing clearly the dangers in front of him, and only now we are beginning to wake up to the thing.
There is the answer. The only answer is Christianity—a living Christianity. Not war! Not atomic bombs! Nothing else. Not a new government. You are the answer! Do not try to pass on the responsibility to anyone else. Each and every one of you has a responsibility. We’ll come to that again.
In the prison—I will tell you one or two things about the prison to let you know what these poor little people are suffering inside—sitting on the floor from morning until night. Not allowed to talk, cough, sneeze, or close our eyes.
When the night comes, you long to stretch yourself out on the floor, so that you could close your eyes and get a bit of peace. Just when you’re in the midst of a heavy sleep, you hear the door knocked and your number called. You’re then handcuffed and dragged upstairs and left standing most of the night, being asked stupid questions. Legs? You don’t know where your legs are. Towards morning, you come down and have a couple of hours sleep, and then the next day, they watch you, especially lest you’d close your eyes. Next night, you might even get two hours of sleep, and then the knock on the door, handcuffed again, and up again. And the third night, you might escape all together, but you are all the night listening to the other doors being knocked. And the shackles, poor lads going out and poor lads coming back, groaning under the tight handcuffs.
I was happy. I was perfectly peaceful. Can’t understand it! I didn’t say, comfortable. We’re inclined to mix those two things up, nowadays. If we’re not comfortable, we are not peaceful. Nonsense! Nonsense! “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave to you, not as the world giveth.”
But you might say, “I thought I suffered something, and I know I suffered nothing now!” The little priest who was arrested the same night as myself, well, he died. Fr. LeGrand, who didn’t die, the European, they don’t want them to die, he came out, and in the train, he was telling me, with tears running down his face, he said, “My God, I don’t know what happened to me. At one period I was standing for six days and six nights, and they never let me move my feet!”
I said, “My God, how could you do that? Did you not fall?” He said, “I was shackled, and I was handcuffed. I tried to fall. I longed to faint. I couldn’t. And every few hours the judges would come in and they’d say that I had killed two men.” And the guards would change every hour. And he went standing on. He told me he did not know what was day and what was night. And at the end of six days and six nights, they came in. He said, “I remember it, but I don’t know what happened. I asked for paper, and I wrote that I killed two men.”
He no more killed them than you did. And the tears ran down his face. You’ll have seen his article in the Jesuit magazine monthly, The Monk, Why I Confessed, and he just tells the whole thing. Something happened. Something happened to the will—there was nothing left in it.
Father Van Coyley, standing 21 days. Another priest standing 30 days, and he couldn’t stand any more. Fr. Sawyer came out, as I told you, with his back broken. But you’ve never heard of it before—the Press don’t care! And now he’s going around stooped over, with his own mortuary card in his hand. People thought he was dead. They jumped on his back until it broke! But again, apparently the Press hasn’t reported it. Christianity? It’s a different thing, and there you are!
Now what about the poor pagans? For the Catholics, all those priests would tell you, in the midst of that terrible thing that God’s grace was there, strengthening them, and they were peaceful. Ready to die! Perhaps even hoping that the Lord might let them be a martyr!
What about the poor pagans? The boy beside me went mad. We had no lawyers to support us! Nobody to talk to at all. I never was tried! I never got a trial in 32 months! I was interrogated, but no trial, no lawyer, but, mind you, there was one thing written on the wall of the cell, and listen to it! It’s absolutely essential to the Communist system. “If you want to gain merit, confess and inform on anybody who thinks, speaks or acts against the peoples’ government.”
There you have it. Inform. How we hate that word. Inside that tiny cell, no chance of getting out of the bars. No chance of talking to your people. No chance of asking anyone’s advice. There it is. That poor boy could have told on his mother and his father and his brothers, sisters. He wouldn’t, and he went mad. Others went mad for the same thing, but most of them do not go mad. I’ve seen them shaking the bars and calling the guards, asking for paper and writing down names, addresses, what they said, what they did, and then handing it back to the guard.
The guard goes and hands it to the police, and the people are checked up on, to see if there actually are such people, if they said such things, and they are ready to pounce on them. The guard comes back, opens that cell. Is that man free? Oh, not at all. You don’t get freed from a Communist prison, but he gets out to the Heaven of a prisoner—out to the labor camps! You’ve heard about them, but he works in them for the rest of his life, or for most of it, and has two meals a day and no wages!
I’ve seen that prison in Shanghai a couple of times a year. That’s where you get your 13 million laborers for the government, building plants for no wages and two meals a day! No strikes. Not a chance of a strike!
Yet, our papers are telling us of the marvelous achievements. Why don’t we hear how it was built? If some building was built in Australia here, a magnificent building, like a pyramid, and it was built just by slaves, what would you say? You’d tear it down with your hands! And yet we are listening to these things. That’s how the prisoners are brought out to the labor camps.
Within one week, that prison would be full again—full of the people, about whom they wrote, friends, relatives, and so on. Squeeze them! Inform! Out to the labor camps in the next trot. Wonderful system! Marvelous system of getting things done—building bridges and plants and roads!
You might think I’m crazy, and I could call a thousand witnesses, if I could only get into that prison again to tell you this little story. We were called up on the roof one-day. There was a man brought up with a Communist. He started to exhort all of us to do the same as he had done. He said, “I was condemned to death, and now I am getting a reduction to seventeen years from this generous government. I deserve death, but now I have a hope of freedom when I am about seventy years of age.”
Listen. Listen to what he said. He said, “I exhort you all to do the same.” He gives his reasons why he got a reduction—because, “I informed on my wife and daughters.” Now there was a shudder that went through that crowd. That man of fifty years of age could turn against his wife and let them be hauled into prison so that he would have a chance of getting out of prison when he was seventy!
Hardly blame the poor old man. There’s the system! The Communist stood up beside him, praising him for that dreadful betrayal and saying, “There’s a man we want in Communist China!” The informing system had gotten one to inform on another.
What about those on the outside? The words of Christ, “You are either with Me or against Me.” “He that gathereth not, scattereth.” Which side are you on? Most people would say, “Oh don’t ask us to be on either side. Let us live our own family life. We admire your government.”
Useless. Which side are you on? Pick a step. You must take it immediately. If I am against you, I go into prison. If I am with you, most people say, “Well, alright. We’re with you, but don’t ask us to be in an organization.” They are told, “Impossible. Impossible, you must begin a step. Men, women and children, you are all organized. Every week you’ll meet.”
Every week you meet, your Communists dictates to you. It might be against America. It might be against England. It might be against religion. It might against the Legion. It might even be just against flies. Now, mind you, if you’ve got 600 million people swatting flies, you swat quite a few! And we did hear, we were told by an eminent man that there were no more flies in China! What chance have they, anyway?
There’s the system―killing flies. Working people against America, against England, against the Church—perfect system. And at that time, you know there were no more beggars on the streets. But, I am telling you the system. The system that tried to crush these people. There were no beggars at that time. There was no corruption. Nobody would take a sixpence from you. No porter at the station, nobody in the restaurant would take a penny! Why would he? You would tell on him, and he would be sent in to prison for the rest of his life.
Money must go into the government hands. You get your plot of land. You work on it. You produce so much, but you must. There’s no card playing or nothing else. There must be no money wasted—all goes into their pockets. No more corruption. No more unemployment. As they say, “How can you be unemployed? Off to the labor camps to dig.”
But some of the farms are on the verge of bankruptcy. Last year, there were a million cases of corruption in the courts. They can’t hold it down, even with that police system.
No prostitutes, they say. There’s one that would interest us all. We’ve been trying in England—police, and everybody else—trying to put sense into those poor girls’ heads. 60 Legionaries there, every night, walking the most dangerous spots in England—trying to convince them, drag them off the streets and bring them back to their Faith. The police can do nothing, but the Communists fixed it all in 6 weeks!
A prostitute is a parasite. She does nothing and produces nothing! Same as a horse or a cow, if they are not able to produce anything. Well, we kill them. Send them into the factories, and the factories, they turn out socks and matchboxes and things.
Does it mean that they’re good girls? Oh, not at all. They live out their life. So long as it doesn’t interfere with the poppy line, and then, when they do, when the child does arrive, as it does, it is given back to the government. It is made 100% Communist. She goes back to the factory and turns out more sharks—babies. Put them up for adoption.
Today, we are not worried about these things. If we haven’t enough cars, if we haven’t enough television, we are worried! We are not worried about the prostitutes. We’ve lost those values.
And now, why am I talking about all this? Why should I try to frighten you? Well now, honestly, my dear people, for the life of me, I cannot see what is going to stop that same thing from coming into this country. Well, if you don’t want me saying this country, let’s say England and Ireland. There’s nothing to stop it except ourselves. Not a war. Not atomic bomb. We are the answer.
You know, it was only the third day of my arrest. I had been twice up during the day, I had been standing for hours, and I was stupid. And I just slept for a little while, and they dragged me out again, and I was handcuffed. It was 12 o’clock at night until three in the morning, and honestly, I hardly knew what I was saying. But the young judge looked across the table at me and began to sneer at my country. And he said, “Ireland, Ha! We’ll be in Ireland to liberate you!”
Well, I tell you, that woke me up! I said, “Thank you very much. We are liberated.”
He said, “We’ll liberate you more!”
And he came over to me, and they took the handcuffs my back and sent me back downstairs. And for 32 months, I thought of what that young fellow had said. And, if I get out (and I am quite sure he thought I’d be shot) I’ll shout that from the housetops.
Here he was, a little Communist—only a year, perhaps, a Communist, and he is not satisfied with putting the Powers out of China. Immediately, he looks at the map, and he sees the furthest point on the map, Ireland, and he is determined to get there, to liberate us from God and the Blessed Mother, and everything we’ve ever held dear.
When I got back to Ireland three years later, he was there. He was there waiting on me, not himself, but his brother from Dublin, from Cork and from Galway. And I came to England, I found them everywhere—in the factories, the shops, the colleges ... found them meeting the trains ... for the trains come over from Ireland, and the poor boys and girls come over to work, have never known anything of a big city. They’re there to find them a job and give them lodgings and bring them to a nice dance hall, within a couple of months, those poor lads find themselves in a Communist party.
“I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink. I was in prison, and you visited Me...” For, we, the priests—this is what we are supposed to be doing! What we are supposed to be doing, what you are supposed to be doing! All of us! Until we all get at it, that’s what Christ told all of us. And, until we all get at it, we will never be able to catch up with that desperate, shall we call it, generosity of the Communists, who is determined to bring people into the Communist party, using Christ’s methods?
Now we see where we are! Far more generous than we are! I once praised some legionaries in London for the number of hours they give every week just to do those things... “I was hungry... I was thirsty... and soon.” And a Communist, who had become a Catholic, a wonderful fellow, he stood up, he said, “Father, for God’s sake, don’t think that they are doing enough. They’re not! When I was a Communist, I did twenty-four hours a day!” He was completely eaten up with his job to bring everybody into Communism. And I thought of that young fellow again, and what he was doing for the devil. He was doing for Communism exactly what each and every one of us is bound to do for Christ, by our very Baptism. By our very Baptism, we are bound to be apostles. What is our Confirmation for, but to strengthen us to do that work.
“The world belongs to him who loves it best and who proves that love”. These are the words of the Curé of Ars. They’re trying to prove it. They’re trying to prove that they love the unemployed ... that they love the man who’s down and out ... and so on. And it’s up to us to do it. “Go and preach the Gospel to every creature,” spoken not only to twelve Apostles, but also to five hundred lay people, for it was the lay people that helped at that time.
No wonder the Holy Father is calling for Catholic Action, calling for the lay apostolate. The Legion, every one of us must join in. There is the answer. What is it? The Legion, every one of us be a brick in the Church? Oh, no!
Sometimes the brick is even a crumbling brick, and the building comes tumbling down. Brother Duff says, “It’s not bricks we want, but germs of life.”
I believe in God. I’ve been baptized. I’ve been strengthened. I must spread the Faith. Get after the man today, the next street, the town, outside to the next country. I see China! And, if I can’t get to China, alright, I can’t get there, but, please God, my little boy or my little girl will go. We have an order to get to the ends of the earth. How are we doing it?
There is the answer my dear people, a living Christianity, nothing else. Coming out of prison, I was convinced there was no other answer.
They are terrified of the spiritual value that I came to in Mr. Douglas Hyde, whom you all know. He was a great Communist once, and he became now a great Catholic. And people ask him, “Mr. Hyde, how do we look for the Communist? How do we know him? How do we prepare for him?”
You know what he said? “Forget about him. Forget about him. Live your Christianity. Live a Christianity that also embodies also apostleship.” That’s Mr. Hyde’s answer, that each and every one of us be an apostle.
Communism will fail. We know it. But remember after Communism, there is some other “ism.” The answer to that other “ism” is again, “Go preach the Gospel to every creature,” which is spoken to all of us.
And now my dear listeners, I have kept you a very long time. And, I am ever so grateful for your attention. I do want you to remember, please remember all of these young, wonderful people of whom I have given you a few examples. Remember, a thousand legionaries are dead. Tens of thousands of other Catholics are dead. Tens of thousands of them sitting on the prisons, stagnating—remember what the prison was like.
Please remember, that all these people, they are our own brothers and sisters. And, I have told you what your prayers have meant to me and what they must mean to them still, not only to them, but to those in Hungary, about whom one of your own great men has written something in the United Nations. Read it if you get it. Poland, all the other countries behind the Iron Curtain, we are a part of them. We are members of the mystical body of Christ.
And my dear listeners, again I want to thank the bishops, all the priests, for the magnificent welcome I have received in Australia. And, I want to thank you all. My last wish for you is this: May that Best of Mothers, and that Most Queenly of Queens, who gave to me peace in prison, give to you and yours peace, too.
Well, when they decided to attack the Legion, they put out Monsignor Riberi. They arrested the four of us, myself, the two Chinese priests and Fr. LeGrand. And we were in prison one month when that diabolic attack started against the Legion of Mary, all over China. Loud speakers on the trees, everyday’s radio, movies, newspapers, buses—all had statements or placards against the Legion of Mary. Everybody was told they must attack it. Everybody was told they must inform against the legionaries. Imagine the poor boys and girls, going around the streets, listening to that, and watching the police cars shrieking up and down, men tied in them with long faces, being taken out to be shot! That was during the terrible purge.
Remember, I have listened. I have watched purges of 10, 20 and 30 thousand people disappearing off the streets in one night, and, all the time, I knew that I would go myself. The Communists would bring police cars up and down the street just to frighten the people—and then take these people out and shot them. One of the priests in Shanghai used to call himself the chaplain to the dying. He stood at his window, when the trucks passed, and he gave them an absolution, in case there were any Catholics there, and the trucks would come back empty. That’s what they did during the Legion purge.
Some poor kids—about 10 of them—were so terrified that they ran to the police station and did what they were told—sign a document against the Legion. About forty others were dragged down to the police by their pagan parents, and of those forty, most went back at the first opportunity and kicked up such a commotion at the police station that they got the document back and tore it up in front of the polices’ eyes. For the rest, people refused. For five months, the police used their whole army’s strength, visiting the houses round from door to door, trying to dig-out the Legionaries and the children.
Now, if I tell you something of the Legion of Mary, it’s not worth anything, because I am a Legion priest. I’ve been in prison for it, and many people might say that I’ve even cracked. Even if the Legionaries themselves talk about the Legion, you are entitled not to believe it, too. You’ll say that they’re propagandists. I’m not going to tell you about myself or about the Legion, or what the Legion says about itself. I am going to tell you about what somebody very important thinks about it. No, not even the Holy Father. You might even say that he has to talk nicely about it, rather I am going to talk about somebody who fills our paper every day—the Communist!
We take note, every day on the front page of our newspapers, what the Communists are saying or doing, even what they are guessing at, what they are thinking. We’re afraid of them, so we may as well admit it. We’re terrified of them—and rightly so.
Now, I have seen the Communists in China put out the English and the Americans, the Germans, the French, the Belgians—put out the great powers, so that they’ll be no bother to them. It was the first time in history that something like that ever happened. We may as well admit it. We have to admit it.
Throw them out. Throw their businessmen in prison. They were in the cells, on either side of me. I knew some of them. They were in prison on trumped-up charges—they took their factories, took their buildings, with no reparation. England and America demanded apologies and demanded that they be released. Did they get an answer? Not to this day!
Surely, we are getting used to that. We’re being kicked around. We’re being told lies every day, and we still go on, trying to believe them. They weren’t the least bit afraid of the major powers. They shot down our planes. They killed our civilians. We demanded apologies, and we didn’t get them.
And yet, here is what I want to say. They attacked the Legion for five-months, day after day, dragging the children in the evening and keeping them standing all night long, trying to get them to sign documents. In the morning the kids came out and said, “I don’t know what happened, Father.” Father asked them, “Did you know what to say? Were you able to answer all the questions?” And everybody said, “They were very easy. Everything seemed to come easily.”
The Communists couldn’t understand it. Where did the children get the strength from? And, after five months, they had to call off the direct attack. They haven’t ceased to attack, but they called off the direct attack because it failed, and failed hopelessly!
Now, while they’re not afraid of the great powers, still, after six-and-a-half years of the greatest persecution the Church has ever seen—and I stand by that statement—they’re still afraid of the Catholic Church. They’re still afraid of Christianity. They’re still worried to death about those who speak about the Faith and spread it.
They would tell you, “We are not afraid of the person who just goes to Sunday Mass and says a prayer. They will die, and the Faith will die with them.” They would conclude themselves that Christianity involves an apostleship. And, if there’s no apostleship, it’s not a full Christianity. The only one they search out is the one who is spreading it. There’s a lesson for us to learn. And, after six-and-a-half years of the greatest persecution, they’re still afraid of the Church—the living Church!
You might ask why I say the greatest persecution; surely, Rome was greater! No, it wasn’t! In Rome, we had catacombs, and we hid in them! There are no catacombs in China today! In Rome, they didn’t bother about the children—children of four or five years of age. Now, in China today, they take those children from their fathers and mothers.
The children are taken to kindergarten and are welfared. From morning until night, they have a political science teacher telling them about Marxism and Leninism. They tell them they are bound to inform on their fathers or their mothers, their sisters, or their brothers. You’ve heard about that—the children telling on their parents. Grown-up students telling on their parents! Grown-up students demanding the death of their father!
I must give you a few examples to let you see what I mean.
Now, very probably, if I speak to you, if you are anything like the people of England—and perhaps you are not— I’ve gone around there every Sunday and I know that 90% of those people believe the Legion to be a sort of “sissy” organization made up of a bunch of little girls, gathered together every week and gossip about their neighbors. Now, if it were that, the Communists wouldn’t worry about it. But, I would love to make it a bit clearer here tonight what the Legion is.
Who was the president and vice-president of the Legion in Shanghai? One was a businessman with a wife and five lovely children. The vice-president was a famous doctor in a city of six million souls—much more than Sydney. He was the head of a big hospital and had a wife and five lovely children. And yet those men knew perfectly well that they would go to prison, because I was going to prison, and yet they accepted those positions.
And, I remember, some days before I was arrested, the little doctor came up to see me, because I was sick. I like to think about and repeat what he said to me, when he sat down on the chair after he gave me my medicine. He said, “Father, would you repeat to me once again the doctrine of St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. What is it to live in Mary and with Mary?” He was getting ready for prison—the father of a family! And I said to him, “Doctor, how do you feel about what is going to happen to both of us?” He said, “Oh, Father, I am alright.” Yet, when I shook his hand, his hand was trembling. Someone asked him, “What about your poor wife and five children?” The doctor said, “Oh, my wife is magnificent! She said to me yesterday, ‘Do what you should be doing for God and His holy Mother. Don’t mind me. I’ll look after the children.’”
Now, there’s heroism for you. You don’t need to go back to Rome for it. You have it in 1951. Those two men have been in prison for the last six-and-a-half-years. And God knows where the two wives and ten children are.
One more. You know—I came out of prison disappointed! If I got a knock on the head, it would have been the greatest cause to die for—but, they wouldn’t let anyone be a martyr. No martyrs! Martyrs are the seeds of Christians! Kick them out! Nobody will listen to them anyway. The press will say more on the other side than they’ll say against us.
When I came out I thought, “Even though I have to face the world again, I am disappointed!” I would be much more use sitting on the floor of a prison than I am here, talking. And yet, I thought when I came out, surely, the world must be looking to China to these wonderful young boys and girls, who have left their lovely families and who have left their lovely home and have gone into prison with their heads high in the air.
And, I came out and found quite a difference! I heard about heroes and heroines I never knew in my life: Davie Crockett, Hop-A-Long Cassidy, Marilyn Monroe, and Bill Haley. Well, you know, I was disappointed.
I don’t blame the kids, you know. How would they know? The papers never told them. There was nobody to go around and tell them about the martyrs, about the people—the Agneses, the Cecilias, the Agathas and all up to this very day. And their minds were on different heroes and heroines. Cutting their hair like them. Walking like them. Dancing like them. That was all.
I give you one case, Joanna Schaal. Please remember the name. Young girl, just finished her university course and was from a very wonderful family. Lovely young girl with the world before her. She had what she needed to get her career going. This girl knew I couldn’t spread the Legion any more, and she decided she was going to do it. She was a Legionary already. She knew that, with the Chinese Communists, she couldn’t move from one village to another without the permission of the police and she said it’s useless trying to try that. So, what did she do? She tucked up her hair and donned a Communist cap, blouse and skirt, and across her breast she wore the medals of the heroes of the day, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, etc.
Why did she do that? So they wouldn’t notice her, and she moved up—moved up to places I never went in my life. Up to Manchuria.
The other day, I met a little Italian nun in Brisbane, who couldn’t speak a word of English and blabbed, blabbed, blabbed Chinese to me. She was delighted to talk in Chinese. And when she heard about Joanna, she said, “Yes! She landed into our convent, dressed as a Communist. That was a girl for you!” She should be written about, but kids know nothing about her. In another place, she took off her Communist uniform and put on country-woman’s clothes, put on her plaits, sat on her bicycle, and rode off to the country places to tell the priests, “Father, you are going to be deported. We’ve got to leave something behind. Let’s start a Legion of Mary Praesidium. Get the people together. Tell them that the Church is not that building—that will be broken. Tell them that they are the Church. They are the Mystical Body of Christ. You must! They are the members. They must build up the Church, even if the priest is gone.”
That girl traveled all around North China while we were waiting to be arrested. She set up at least 350 presidia! Four days before I was arrested, Joanna was caught, too. And when I came out of prison, I heard the poor girl had been condemned to ten years hard labor! She’s there now. There’s no word. We don’t know whether she’s dead or alive, but if she’s alive, she’s sitting in some tiny little cell.
Noelle, another one. Little Noelle, my own junior president—a girl about that height, quite small. Very smart little child, brilliant! Just finished her schooling at the Mothers of the Sacred Heart—the biggest school I’ve ever seen. Studying at the university run by the Jesuit Fathers, doing her first year of medicine. Her father was a doctor, her grandfather was a doctor and Noelle going to be a doctor, too, with all arranged with the Carmelite Nuns that she would eventually join them.
Now some days before I was arrested, we hand to stop the external meetings of the Legion and, remember, all the more credit to the Legion—the Legion of Mary had been stopped since 1951. We told the Legionaries, “We cannot. There is no right of assembly. What you have learned in it, carry on. Do your work. You were born to be apostles, go right ahead with what you’ve got.” And even after six years, the Communists are still looking for those Legionaries.
Noelle had come up to the house. We had already stopped the external meetings and I was depressed, because I felt it was a sort of failure. I said to her: “Noelle, listen. This is a great tragedy, but the Communists have turned against us.”
You know what she said? She said, “Father, don’t say that! This is no tragedy, this is glorious!” I must say I blushed. I was her spiritual director and here that little girl realized far better than I did, the glory of the Cross. That Christ could think of no better way of saving the world, except by the Cross. That every time the Church was persecuted, it rose out of it gloriously and that the Legion of Mary would be far better known because it was persecuted. Look at it today. There was foresight for you.
Ah, and that child, every day went down the street with her young junior Legionaries holding the Gospel in her hand, shouting, “Matthew chapter 5, verse 11. Matthew chapter 5, verse 11. ‘Blessed are ye when they shall persecute and calumniate you, and say all that is evil against you, untruly, in My name. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in Heaven.’” She was shouting this right in the face of the Communists. Her father—a doctor! Her grandfather—a doctor! She herself was studying to become a doctor—and she was thinking about Heaven! We don’t expect to see those things nowadays, do we?
Every Sunday morning, Noelle brought her fellow university students down to the front seat of a little chapel, for there was a young priest, the first secretary of the Holy Father’s representative, some of the Fathers here must have known him—Father Mathias. He was arrested the same night as myself, and after six-and-a-half-years in prison, we don’t know where he is.
He was thundering against the injustices of the Communists, and Noelle brought her fellow students to listen to him. And she knew very well the girl beside her was a traitor, specially baptized to inform on the Catholics—writing down everything the priest said, writing down the names of everybody in that little chapel, blessing herself, genuflecting and going out and handing that document to the Communists! Noelle knew that very well, and I warned her. And she said, “Oh, what about it, Father? Forget about it!”
When I came out of prison, I asked about Noelle, and I heard that at that time she had been in prison for a year and a half. That means that she has now been in prison between four and five years. Poor little Noelle wanted to be a Carmelite nun, and there she’s been in prison, sitting on the floor, never talking to anybody—far more a Carmelite than ever a Carmelite was!
The other thing I wanted to tell, and I must do it briefly, something to do with Our Lady here, that lovely statue. You know, I thought in the Legion I knew, I thought in Ireland I knew something about Our Lady, and yet I realized that I knew nothing about her until I got to China, where I heard of the Legion of Mary for the first time in my life, even though I am from Dublin. And, I heard about the Legion, and it was marvelous! From the first moment I touched it, it was like a miracle in my hand.
Even though I spent most of my time down in the missions, the Legion kept ticking over itself. And when the Japanese put me out for two and a half years, I thought that because I was not there, the Legion would fail! I promise, when I came back, the six Praesidia were still ticking over, gathering people to the Church on Sunday, instructing the children, instructing the pagans, carrying on, even though the president was shot dead in my room! It didn’t disturb them enough to block the Legion.
It was in that Legion that I learned about St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, and that I should be studying that book about his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And, I tried to read the book and couldn’t make head or tail of it. And it was only when I went home to Dublin, that I remember walking up O’Connell Street with a little legionary, a man, a civil servant, a busy man with a family, and he started to talk to me about devotion to Our Lady.
Honestly, he was marvelous. And, he explained that little book that I had tried to read so often, and he explained it in a moment. Spoke with eyes, glistening, delighted at the peace he had found when he had consecrated himself to Our Lady. Told me that in doing so, he had done nothing more and hadn’t done it half as well as Christ had done to His mother, the only One who ever lived in His mother’s womb for nine months, knowingly and willingly—greatest state of subjection known to man. And yet, we are afraid to consecrate ourselves to Mary, afraid to imitate what Christ did.
This boy explained it all to me in a few minutes, and I read the book again, went back to China, preached it to the Chinese (you know the Chinese accepted it as they would accept their own mother). Europeans, we found difficult. To them, we were business people, we...I don’t know, I found it very hard to get the idea over, and yet the Chinese accepted it, and I know perfectly well that it was that acceptance, realizing Mary has the spouse of the Holy Ghost, even to this day! All graces coming through her hands, living that, living in Mary and with Mary.
It was that which gave the Legion its power. And it was that very thing that, when the boy next to me went mad, and the sweat came over my forehead, and I got up and held the bars, no place to run, nothing to do, no escape. And I wondered would I go mad myself? And I talked to myself the day that I had consecrated myself to Our Lady, I had said, “From this day forward, I promise never to be uneasy for anything, past or future.” And I sat down on the floor, perfectly happy.
Now the thing was so strange, these two things I’ll shout from the housetop: prayer and devotion to Our Lady, if I ever get out. And here I am.
Now I have spent three of the most thrilling years of my life going about China, setting up the Legion, watching Our Lady working through the most unpromising material. We had, at the university, students from the very best families, magnificent people, lovely boys and girls, giving themselves entirely to the service of Christ and His holy mother.
But, if you asked me, which were the best legionaries, I might even say those in the country, poor old ladies with bone feet, hardly able to walk and never been to school who left that Legion room, not depending on their eloquence, not depending on their theology, depending on the mother of Grace, going out to do their little work, in her name. And they worked miracles of grace.
In one year in China, we had a thousand Praesidia. We’ve never been equal since. In England, we’ve been 28 years, and we’ve only just over a thousand Praesidia. But, they grew so fast in China that Brother Duff (the founder of the Legion of Mary) wrote to me and said, “Father, what are you doing?”
I wrote back to say, “Brother Duff, I can’t stop them. They want to come in. They feel the need. Priests and Sisters saw the need. They were being kicked out, and knew they must leave something behind them. What is the strongest? And devotion to Our Lady with this regular, detailed work. They accepted it, and 1,000 Praesidia in one single year!”
The Communists told me, I must stop the Legion of Mary, and I tried to convince them that it was a spiritual organization. In proof of it, I gave them the handbook, and you know how difficult the handbook is to read, even in English, and if you saw it in Chinese! But, you know, like a true Communist, they had read that book in one week and digested it, brought it back, and they said, “That is a magnificent organization! Just like Communism!” That was the greatest compliment ever paid.
But, you know they had seen in that system the detail, the Praesidia, the cell system, the Curia, the Comitium, the Senatus, the Concilium and the hierarchy above it all the time, able to stop it at a twist, or be able to get more going. You know, Brother Duff has compared that in his latest book, The Spirit of the Legion of Mary, the two systems starting in Dublin and the other in Moscow in 1921. Both using the cell system, both using Praesidium, Curia, both using definite work, both using the same color! You never thought of that one, did you? Both using RED. You’ll see it around Our Lady’s head—the red of the Holy Spirit.
What do we use for the Mass of the Holy Ghost? Red. The Legion was founded particularly to give honor to the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, because she was so sorely neglected. That is why your handbook is red. The two of them spreading throughout the world, and meeting in China, and immediately, they see it, they said, “We’ll stop that!” Strange. Yet, the time hadn’t come.
They read that book, in which they saw a magnificent system, but they forgot about Our Lady. They didn’t care about her. Forgot about her power. Didn’t bother about the spirit of the Legion, and now, is there any wonder after some years, when they attacked it and found it, they found it so difficult to crush that they said, “Who is this woman, this cursed woman, who dares to thwart us?” And, I like to give the answer of the little girl in Shanghai, “Oh, you’ll never catch her! She’s in Heaven!”
Well, of course, we do hope they find her. But, there you are, they never saw the important thing in the Legion. Wonderful system, yes, but what is it without de Montfort’s True Devotion? The mediatrix of all graces, depending on the Holy Spirit, every legionary, when he becomes a legionary, after three months, who does he address, Our Lady? No. The most Holy Spirit. “I.., desiring to be enrolled as a legionary of Mary,..etc.”
There you have it, the spouse of the Holy Ghost. They never saw anything in that, and they didn’t care. And they let me back to Shanghai, but when I got to Shanghai, I found 1,000 Praesidia had been erected! I didn’t set them all up, you know. That, sometime I get the glory of that, and I didn’t do it. I was dodging around other places, little Fr. Joseph Sinn, doctor of theology, doctor of cannon law, speaking 7 languages, and speaking English with a lovely Irish brogue. That little man had traveled up and down the country in my absence, and the Legion spread by itself.
You can’t say anyone spread it. I don’t even say that Brother Kenney would say that he spread in all New Guinea, it spreads itself. But that little man was arrested the same night as myself, and, as I told you, he died after a year and a half. You see, he translated the handbook, too.
Now it wasn’t very long until the Communists saw the power of the Legion. They could put out foreign priests. The could kill Chinese priests. They could close down churches, but what can you do with people who insist upon talking about God and His holy mother? Those who keep on teaching catechism and bringing people into the Church? That system must be crushed, and you know what they decided to do? They decided to crush the Legion into submission, and then use it to set up a national church.
To hear them, these days, in the paper, on the radio, still trying to set it up. Still all confused. Still failing. That’s a great compliment to the Chinese people. One of the most wonderful people in the world! Wonderful Catholics! After six years of a terrible persecution, still trying to set up a national church. If they had crushed the Legion under submission, and used all the Legion members to set it up, I wouldn’t be here tonight, dear people. I wouldn’t be talking. It would have been a terrible tragedy.
They tried to set up the national church, and they, themselves, admitted it. Twice, they failed. I was in prison for 32 months of solitary confinement, never even heard if my mother was alive or dead. Never heard any news, whatsoever. Nobody, but the guard, did I see. And yet, they were telling me that the Legion of Mary had failed me, and that I had destroyed in China by my work. They said the legionaries had accused me!
Well, I couldn’t believe it, because I knew the kids. They were marvelous! I couldn’t believe that they would not carry on that work. One day, after two years, I was thrilled to hear them cursing the Legion of Mary over the loud speaker! Why? Because they said no movement that we’ve ever set up since 1949, no movement has failed, except one—the movement to set up a national church! And that movement was stopped by the Legion of Mary.
I was delighted! First bit of good news I got! And yet, they are trying to sell to the world, now, that the Chinese church has accepted separation from Rome. Be careful what you read in the papers, for Heaven’s sake. Be careful where it comes from. Their methods are terrible.
I must begin by thanking his Lordship for the lovely things he has said about China, and even about me. His Lordship has summed up in a few words what I would like to convey here this evening. And it makes my task so much easier. But before I begin to speak at all, I wish to thank, particularly, their lordships for coming here this evening, from such a busy day, and presiding here, that makes such a difference to have Our Lady here, to have their lordships, and such a vast crowd. And in their presence, I wish to thank every bishop in Australia.
This, perhaps, is my last chance of speaking to a vast audience. But I do want, publicly, here, to thank everybody.
From the time I landed at Perth on the 9th of July, coming down through Adelaide, Melbourne, Tasmania, Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney and Canberra, and every place, their lordships, honestly, I was ashamed of myself — they said such nice things about me and about the Legion of Mary. And each place gave their time to help my work. I was publicly to thank them. And I wish publicly to thank the people of Australia for that tremendous walk, I should never forget. And if I may pay a tribute to the Catholics of Australia, who, I see are struggling, struggling to do so much—and to do it so generously.
Perhaps, the only country where I have seen, they have to do everything—build up schools without any help. I shall not forget my trip to Australia. And I would wish here, to say something publicly. And I wish to thank that Legion of Mary, which will inevitably come into my talk this evening. It has inspired me all my life, since I found it, but which has found the very same in Australia, every place I went—that same bubbling, bubbling enthusiasm—standing ready to help the priest and the Church in whatever work the Church might ask for.
And I want to thank the Legion, especially, for bringing me here. If it wasn’t for the Legion, I suppose I wouldn’t be here. They had the courage to invite me over, and even though I turned down their invitation first, thinking that it might be too much, talking all the time, they even promised me that they would only ask me to talk once or twice in each place, and I want to thank them for that. And I want to thank the president here, for all he has done. He is certainly an example of bubbling enthusiasm, Fr. Marley.
One other on the platform he has mentioned before, Brother Charles Kenney, who as you know must have given up his work—given up any chance of earning any money—and that is the thing that Communism is aiming at. If it doesn’t produce something, produce material success, Communists don’t want it. And here is somebody who gives up a job, goes to New Guinea for two years, a lay man, to spread the kingdom of Christ. He is a representative. He is one of those that I will be speaking of. He is the same to me, and you find that same, as I say, enthusiasm that bubbles over, even to giving up a good job for a certain time.
Now, these things, I want to speak about before I say anything more. And I want to thank you for coming here this evening, this vast multitude. Because, you know, I have other reasons besides just thanking you for coming to listen to me. But I have reason, that I want to thank you, because, you know, for the most the press, which is supposed to be giving forth our ideas, your ideas and mine, well, apparently they’re not interested. For the most part, they’re not interested. They do not seem to be interested in the fact that Christians are dying, or giving the numbers of those who have died. Not interested in the fact that there are so many millions of people working in slave labor camps. What is a few million, when we want production? We must have production. We must keep up our standard of living. We do trade with China. That is the important thing. That is the only thing that matters.
And the fact that my friends, how many of them, came out crazy? You’ve seen the picture. I’ve seen it in some parts, but I heard people here never saw it. I know old Fr. Sawyer, who came out with his back broken, and the spine is sticking out that much, still. I asked people, and they said they never saw his photo. No, I am afraid that the press would be more interested in the graceful form of a dancer. Tragedy, it does give an indication of the values in the world today.
But I want here, this evening—when I speak of these things—I want you to be my press. Not often I have a chance to speak to over two thousand people. If each and every one of you would remember the figures I give you, and that you try to bring them out and spread them. After all, we are Catholic. We are all Christians, and we must spread the Truth.
Many have come when my statements that I have been making would not be emphasized, perhaps, other statements were emphasized. The very opposite of what I am saying, and indeed I don’t blame those who heard those statements, or those who gave them, because when we go to China now in a delegation, after all, the Chinese are a very charming people—most magnificent people. And, a country that has freedom of religion in its constitution and wants to do trade with us, is certainly not going to let our people see persecution or see people who are not happy—who are not supposed to be happy, and people who have been indoctrinated for six or seven years have learned to say what they must say.
I met some refugees only one month ago in Hong Kong, and I am able to speak Chinese— I’ve spent 24 years in China, and in interviewing them I asked them some things, and they would hardly answer me. I said, “Come on! Come on! You’re in a British Colony now. Nobody’s going to touch you.” Terrified—even to speak to me!
Some of our people who have been there, not only from here, but from England and Ireland, have come back and told us that the people on the street say how wonderful everything is. God help the man who does says it isn’t wonderful! Surely, we realize that! And surely, we realize that there is an interpreter who has been indoctrinated for six years, and who knows jolly well if he wants to keep out of prison, he must interpret “properly”.
I spoke Chinese to these people in Hong Kong—quite another matter. We heard there was freedom of religion. Well, my story—you will hear it this evening—is that we were six thousand priests, brothers and sisters. We’re all out, except 15, and most of those are in prison! Five hundred Chinese priests were executed or died in prison! Three-thousand two-hundred of our Catholic schools, confiscated! Two hundred Catholic universities, Catholic hospitals—all gone! And we hear there is freedom of religion! And that’s what is printed, not what I say. Have I a right to speak?
Is there opportunity to go to Mass in China today? Yes, of course. The Chinese communists are no fools. When they profess freedom of religion, they’ve got to show a little. In the big towns, where the people go to peek in, there are churches open, we know. And we know from the papers of these days, that some of the poor priests have slipped into being patriotic priests—perhaps even separated from Rome, but they are still able to say Mass. Some of the poor people, they go to Mass, too, and others can go.
A very insidious persecution, that leaves most people saying there is freedom of religion in China, and, when that is so, there can be infiltration of trade, and culture and games and so on. That’s all they want. No freedom of religion. No freedom of speech. No freedom of assembly. No freedom of the press. There is nothing. I know these things, but as I say, people really do not want to publish them, perhaps because we are determined to do trade.
Even before I begin my own story, I want to call to mind even one of my own fellow Columbans, Fr. Phillip Crosby. You may have all read his book, or if you haven’t, you should. He’s an Australian. He wrote Penciling Prisoner. He was on a death march for 3 years under the Communists. How he came out alive, I don’t know, but he has written a beautiful book, and speaks equally beautifully of non-Catholics and Catholics who walk by his side on that march. I am glad to be associated with him.
Now, I promised myself, while I sat on the floor of a Chinese prison for 32 months of solitary confinement, that if I ever got out of that prison, I would spend the rest of my days thanking people for prayer. Now I don’t say that very lightly. I don’t. I promised that I would try to convince people of the power of prayer, because I am perfectly certain that if it weren’t for prayer, I would be crazy. I don’t say that very simply, because the boy on my right went mad after one month.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard anyone going mad, but it’s a horrible thing. I heard him crying at night to himself, talking to himself, shaking the bars, calling for his father and his mother and his brothers and sisters, and then one morning, shaking the bars and shrieking! It was all over. Cold sweat ran off my forehead, and a shiver down my back, and I knew the poor boy was gone. He was left there 5 months, shrieking besides me, and I am quite sure that he was left there for my benefit.
Two men opposite me went mad. The young American on my left went mad. The little priest of the cell opposite me, I heard him vomiting for two months, and then he was dragged out of the cell, and he died. Little Fr. Joseph Sinn, arrested the same night as myself, died after one and a half years.
Somebody else down the line, I don’t know who he was, but he searched for something around the cell, and that cell was swept and garnished every few days, and they searched our clothes, lest we hide anything that might be sharpened. Must not die! Make them miserable, but don’t let them die! This man found and kept something that he polished, and it was razor sharp, and in the morning he was a pool of blood.
Now that’s what went on around me, and yet I was perfectly peaceful. Now I don’t say comfortable—but peaceful. I learned for the first time in my life what the grace of God was. I learned for the first time in my life what it was as Christ said, “My peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you, not as the world giveth...”
My cell was that size, I couldn’t stretch my fingers. Just my own length, no window, no table, no chair, no bed, nothing, just the gate. Not loud talk, not loud coughs or loud sneezes even. Now remember these things. Every one that comes out of a Communist prison will tell you the same. You must sit there and think of your crime and confess. No books. Nothing to read, and you wonder that they went mad around me. And you’ll wonder why I didn’t. And that’s what I am trying to say to you.
I have been 24 years in China, and I spent a good deal of that time running away from bandits. And every time I heard the word bandit, I was petrified. I am a coward by nature. And I would like to convince you of that before I am finished. I was terrified! But, I would like for you to remember one thing before I pass this point, that the very bandits from whom I ran, who were they? Ah! Who were they? They are now sitting in control in Peking—the Chinese rulers today. I ran from them. My fellow priests ran from them. They didn’t catch me then, I ran too fast, but they caught me later.
But they did catch a brother of one of your priests, here, in Sydney. It was the brother of Dr. Leonard of Manly College, and they killed him on the altar steps in 1949!
Fr. Tierney, too, died at their hands, and hundreds of others. And, since they have come into control in China, I give you a figure, please remember it. It’s a figure—it’s not my figure. It’s the figure of the United Nation’s subcommittee, set-up to find out the number and found from Communist sources—fifteen million, at least, executed! Far more than the population of Australia. Fifteen million, at least! I know it’s not enough, but it’ll do.
Between 25 and 30 million in slave labor camps! Now, that’s the United Nation’s subcommittee figure, again, I am not quoting mine. I know it’s not enough, but it’ll do. These are the people, in Peking, now, who have done these things, and they speak of peace. And, every time they open a meeting, they open a crate of doves, and let the doves fly around. Oh, photographers take pictures of the beautiful doves, doves of peace! They publish them in our papers, and we are enthralled that the Communists want peace!
I know they want peace. I repeat it. They do want peace. They don’t want war. While there is war, they can not have infiltration. While there is peace, they have cultural relations and infiltration. And through infiltration, Communism enters a country, not by war.
No, every time I heard the word “bandit”, as I say, I was terrified. And in the end, I waited a whole year for a rest in Shanghai, from 1950 to 1951. I knew by that time that they hated the Catholic Church, and I knew by that time, they had pinpointed the Legion of Mary, over everything, as their deadly enemy.
And when I knew they were going to persecute the Legion of Mary, I knew I—the one who had been asked by the Holy Father’s representative to set it up throughout China—I was in for it! And from that moment, I was terrified. There was no bravery in it!
I walked the streets every day, and I knew that guards were watching me. I left the house every day, and I knew the poor “coolies” who were pulling the rickshaws, they were bound to inform on me. I didn’t blame the poor lads. That’s part of the system.
I knew one night or one day, they would take me. I always had my little Gospels and my Imitation of Christ in my pocket, and yet, the night they caught me, I couldn’t even stretch to the table to get them. Just too quick!
But, I was terrified! And while I was terrified, I, a priest, a spiritual director, you know, I love to think, now, of the young legionaries, young boys, young girls who knew they were going to be arrested, too. Remember, they were from the very best families in Shanghai. They were from the universities, and from the most comfortable homes. What did they do? The girls cut their hair, so that the lice wouldn’t be too bad in prison! And, they dressed in cotton clothes to get ready for prison! And, they slept on their floors at nights—not in the beds—getting ready for this! Brave young people, and the waters of Baptism barely dry on some of their foreheads. And, here was I, terrified!
I tell a story against myself. I couldn’t read any books. I used to spend a good deal of time in the chapel, going around the Stations trying to get courage from the Passion of Christ. And, when I got to the 12th Station each day, I used to repeat a little prayer that I suppose you’ve often heard. I certainly always said it, “For Christ died, may I die for love of Thee, as Thou hast died for love of me?”
And my knees were shaking! I no more wanted to die than anyone wants to die! I was terrified! And, I was so terrified that I stopped it! I couldn’t say it anymore! I felt a perfect hypocrite, and I changed it to Our Lord’s prayer in the Garden, and I thought it a much better one for me!
One of my greatest friends at that time, he knew he was going to be arrested, already three of his praesidia had been arrested! And, he wondered what he could do for them. And, he couldn’t sleep. For three months, he hadn’t slept. He used to come to the house, and I couldn’t console him, and he got whiter and thinner, and he smiled a sickly smile, and his eyes became pinpoints. And one night he disappeared. I knew no more about him, but in prison I heard that this poor man, after another month, had gone mad. One morning they found him lying over a table with a cut on his wrist, dead, or dying.
There you have it! That’s what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been arrested, perhaps. And these things, I can’t understand.
No, it was one night, and I like to recall the day, the 6th of September 1951, half past 11 o’clock when a long ring came at the door. And my superior, Fr. McElroy went down to open it. (And here I mention Fr. McElroy, who waited 3 years for arrest and was never picked up.) It is that very Fr. McElroy who has written these articles in The Advocate, over the past few weeks. Get it, and read it again.
He went down to the door, and when he came up, he had a lot of Communists with him. By the time the had searched my room, it was the 7th of September 1951, the vigil of the Nativity of Our Lady, and the foundation day of the Legion of Mary. Well, I was thrilled at that, alone!
They came in and, having searched my room, and taking photographs which were faked—they took an ordinary photograph of me standing at a table, and put Fr. McElroy out. Behind me was a picture of Christ the King on the wall. When I heard later, after I had come out of prison windows, pictures were published in the press, the table which was empty was covered with knives, revolvers and pornographic literature. Behind me, they had stuck in four lightly clad women—perfect Communist technique!
The very same as they did to the poor nuns in Canton, the nuns who had spent their lives picking up babies off the street, so much so that the people of China worshiped them. Chinese Communists didn’t like anybody to worship Europeans, or to worship anybody in the Church, therefore, they accused them of murdering two thousand babies! They put them in prison, and kicked them out. You’ve heard about it, or have you?
Now, I was taken away that night, brought me in a car, brought me to a police station, left me standing for three hours in the corner of a police room. A man stood opposite me with a machine gun, took my beads and my medals and dashed them on the table, and at three in the morning, ordered me to lie down on a cement floor. And, he stood over me with a machine gun.
Now, I don’t like cement floors, and I hate machine guns! And yet—here’s what I am coming to—within five minutes, I was fast asleep. Now, that guard stood over me all night—it was only two hours of a night, indeed. I am quite sure that he was indignant. He was meant to impress me, and he didn’t impress me at all. And, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if I snored!
I got a kick at five in the morning to get up , but do you know that a peace came over me at that moment. I was perfectly happy. Can’t understand it. And that was the beginning of 32 months of solitary confinement, listening to people being dragged all day and night, shackles on their legs, handcuffed, and being taken out myself, often during the night. During the night, being left standing most of the night answering stupid questions of people who came in every couple of hours to ask you one. Guards changing every hour, but you stood on.
I watched that, and I listened to it, day after day. Aye, even young girls, being dragged out. Terrible, the most awful place of misery you could imagine, and yet I was perfectly peaceful. It was so strange that I promised I would tell that to everybody, and try to convince you of the power you have.
Fr. McGrath was one of the chief foundations and operators of the Legion of Mary in China, in the years that immediately preceded and followed the Chinese Communist takeover in the late 1940's. Here is an article written by him after he was finally released from the Chinese prison where he had placed due to his Legion of Mary activities.
I spent the three most thrilling years of my life as Envoy of the Legion of Mary in China. They were thrilling years because, for the first time, I fully realized the tremendous possibilities of the lay apostolate as a missionary arm of the Church. I saw the heights of spiritual heroism men, women and even children are capable of — provided they are given a high enough ideal. I learned all this from the Legionaries of Mary in pagan China.
I knew literally nothing about the Legion until 1937 when I started a Praesidum in my parish of Tsien
Kiang in central China. I had done so with the gravest misgivings because a previous attempt at enlisting layfolk to assist me in the apostolate had ended in dismal failure. Not alone was it a failure , but grave harm had been done. The indiscretions of the overzealous had antagonized many and for three years I was the target of anonymous letters and a whispering campaign. The Church had lost “face” before the very people whom I wished to influence and convert, the Chinese in Tsien Kiang. I became fixed in my determination never again to allow my Catholics any active part in my missionary apostolate. I would work as hard as I could by myself.
It was then that my bishop, Monsignor Edward J. Galvin of Hanyang, gave me a copy of the Legion Handbook. “Read it,” he said. “I think you will find in it just what you need.”
It was the first time I had ever seen a Legion of Mary Handbook. I read it and was skeptical. The Legion expected from lay people a spirituality and height of self-sacrifice which I did not think possible anywhere, let alone in missionary China. But one sentence intrigued me and stood out as a challenge—a challenge, it seemed, from Our Lady: “If past experience is an indication, no branch of the Legion will fail which is worked according to our rule.” I made a bargain with Our Lady. I would follow the Legion system down to the last detail; it was up to Her to produce the results.
I kept the formation of my first Praesidium a secret from the parish for six months. Its few members used to meet in my little house late at night. We were still afraid of failure and the harm that failure might do.
But the Legion did not fail; it revitalized my parish. Invalid marriages that had defied all my efforts were put right; the lapsed came back; catechumens who had been postponing a decision asked for baptism. Before a year had passed there were three praesidia of the Legion in Tsien Kiang, a city with only sixty Catholics among its 10,000 people.
The Japanese had invaded China in 1937 and in 1939 the invaders reached Tsien Kiang. Fifteen-hundred people, mostly women and their children, flocked into the Catholic mission seeking protection from a soldiery whose evil reputation had preceded them. I interviewed the Japanese commander and, to his everlasting credit, he gave me a guarantee that they would not be molested; but the terrified people, many of them prosperous and well-to-do, remained in my care for almost a year.
During that time the Legion of Mary showed its mettle. They helped me to restore order out of chaos. They moved among the refugees; they gave instruction to converts. At the end of a year there were 500 new Catholics in Tsien Kiang, and the number of Legion Praesidia had increased to six, with a hundred members all told. Times were hard in China but my new Catholics told me to write to my bishop and tell him to send me no more money, that they would support me.
In 1942, I was forced by the Japanese to leave my parish, and for two and a half years I and many of my fellow-Columban missionaries were confined to Hanyang City. But in my absence the Legionaries continued to hold their meetings. They assembled the Catholics and led them in their prayers; they continued to instruct catechumens. To me that was the most significant pointer to the worth of the Legion. When the priest was gone, they still carried on the apostolic work of the Church.
I was sold on the Legion and when Archbishop Riberi, Papal Internuncio to China, appointed me in 1948 to preach and organize the Legion of Mary throughout China, my job was to sell it to others. “There are 500 million people.” Monsignor Riberi said, “and only 7,000 priests. Even if we doubled or tripled that number, the conversion of China would still be impossible.” The Communists were well on their way to winning control of the whole country and the Internuncio saw that a time was coming when the foreign missionary would be a marked man and so would the Chinese bishops and priests. The future of the Church in China might be largely dependent on fervent lay apostles. Monsignor Rebury hoped to form these apostles through the Legion of Mary.
I traveled throughout China, almost without a break, for nearly two years—by air, by road, by river. I can never forget the sympathetic hearing and cooperation , and the hospitality I received from Chinese bishops and priests and from foreign missionaries of every nationality. I never stayed very long in any place. Once a Praesidium was set up and the Legion method explained, I moved on. As long as the Handbook was followed, I knew the Legion would thrive; and it did. Our Lady wanted to use the laity through the Legion. She was preparing China’s Catholics for the dark days that were so near.
Within less than two years, there were more than a thousand praesidia established throughout China. The Legion had spread so fast that the Concilium in Dublin was alarmed. Were we going ahead too quickly? Would so young an organization survive? I was nervous too. But I wrote back to Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion: “I know our progress is terrific. I’m a bit scared myself, but the Chinese Catholics realize that they must do something in the face of this diabolical Communism. Why stop Our Blessed Mother’s hand when She feels it is necessary?”
By the end of 1949 the Communists were in control of nearly all China, and in Chungking in that year I got my first inkling of what lay ahead. The Communist police came to me and told me that I must cease my Legion activities. I gave them a Handbook and invited them to come to any Praesidium meeting so that they could see for themselves that the Legion was a religious organization. They did this and after three weeks they returned the book with the comment, “This is a great organization, just like Communism.” It was the greatest compliment they could pay. They gave me a pass to return to Shanghai and the Legion was permitted to resume in Chungking. But, of course, they were merely biding their time. They were not ready yet.
Shortly afterwards, the Reds started their famous Triple Independence Movement, by which they hoped to establish among the Catholics a national church, separated from Rome. To counter the danger, Father Legrand of the Catholic Central Bureau in Shanghai got pamphlets printed defining the position of the Church and had them posted to every part of China. The priests explained them to the Catholics. The Communists failed in their plan and they blamed the Legion for their failure. They decided to crush it.
The Legion was labeled “counter-revolutionary,” “reactionary,” “a secret spy organization working for the imperialists.” The Catholic Central Bureau was closed down. The Communist press and radio conducted a violent campaign against Archbishop Riberi and the Legion. Every church in Shanghai was ordered to register its parish organizations, but the Legion was the only one specifically mentioned. In Peking, the Communists came to the Legion authorities there and said, “In order to protect you, we must know who you are. We must have the names of all your members, the places where you meet, your telephone numbers and the minutes of your meetings.”
The Communists’ anxiety to “protect” the Legion was the danger signal. We decided to disband the Legion, and to protect Legionaries, we burned all minutes and lists of names. I remarked to the nineteen year old President of my Junior Praesidium , “Isn’t it a pity they have turned against the Legion?” She replied, “Don’t say that, Father. This is glorious.” When I was expelled from China in 1954, I learned that she, Noelle Wang, had been in prison for a year and a half.
In September, I and many other priests in Shanghai were arrested and put in prison. Shortly afterwards, the President and Vice-president of the Shanghai Senatus followed us. Francis Seng, the President, had accepted office when he knew trouble was coming. A married man, he had five good reasons for refusing—his five children. The last I heard of him was that he was refusing to accuse me, and refusing to say that the Legion was reactionary or an imperialist organization.
A fellow prisoner, who was released, said that his hands had been handcuffed behind his back until he collapsed and the Communists feared he might die. Dr. Chang, the Vice-president, some days before my arrest came to visit me. I said to him, “How do you feel about what is happening?” He replied, “Oh! I’m alright.” I went on. “Rather, how does your wife feel about it?” He said, “My wife said, ‘Do what you should do for Our Lady. Do not worry about me. I will look after the children.’ “ Two heroes. I have heard nothing of them for almost four years.
Dr. Chang’s wife was called to the police station in Shanghai. The Communists told her, “Your husband has confessed and is ready to come home, but you must confess first.” She replied, “I do not believe you. If the only way my husband can receive better treatment is by denying his Faith, I do not want to see him home, and if he comes, I shall go to prison in his place.”
The Military Control Committee, the most feared Communist authority in Shanghai, set up forty centers with about 500 officials waiting to receive the registration of Legionaries. A placard outside each station read:
“Registration of Reactionary and Secret Organization—the Legion of Mary.” The newspapers, the streetcars, rickshaws, shops and schools in the city were placarded with cartoons vilifying the Legion. But only a handful of Legionaries registered and some of them did so under pressure from their families. Many of them went back and withdrew their registrations.
A letter was written in blood by Legionaries to the Bishop of Shanghai. “Monsignor, we will follow you wherever you go,” said the letter. “We are proud to live in this age of persecution and there can be no compromise.” No wonder the Communists complained bitterly to me in prison, that their plan for a national church had been ruined by the “Imperialist Legion of Mary.” A “progressive” priest said, in a Communist newspaper article, that wherever there was a Praesidium of the Legion, the national church movement had been a complete failure.
My great friend and helper, Father Joe Seng, Spiritual Director of the Legion in Shanghai, died after sixteen months of imprisonment. He helped to translate the Handbook into Chinese. “The Legion is my life.” he told Shanghai Legionaries.
When the Legion was condemned by the Communists, the members of my Junior Praesidium, led by their nineteen year-old President, left their last meeting waving copies of the New Testament and crying: “Matthew, Chapter Five, Verse Eleven: ‘Blessed are ye when they shall persecute and calumniate you and say all that is evil against you untruly in My Name. Be glad and rejoice for your reward is very great in Heaven.’ “
I learned a great deal when I was privileged to see China’s Legionaries in action. I learned even more when I saw the apostles of Communism in action both in prison and outside. For every true Communist is an apostle, dedicated to this atheistic cause. For him, no labor, no suffering is too great. The Communists want to show that they love the world, the downtrodden, the poor, the unemployed, the wretched ones of the world. But this is only a policy to achieve the god-less, Communist world-state.
“The world belongs to him who loves it most and who proves that love,” said the Curé of Ars, quoted in the Legion Handbook. We also must love the world — not in a worldly way, but for the cause of Christ. Ours must be an even more heroic service, for the Communist weapons of oppression, intrigue, and terror are not for Mary’s children. It is no longer enough for each Catholic to seek merely to save his own soul. The challenge of Communism can only be met by apostles, active workers for God clothed with the armor of prayer and branded with the marks of self-sacrifice and complete dedication to the cause of Christ. Such apostles were countless legionaries in China, such should every Catholic be.
Visiting the little Chinese villages, one is struck by a tremendous feeling of solidarity that exists among Christians. Primarily, it is a kind of self-defense mechanism which results from over three centuries of persecution. In China, the family is the basis for individual unity and it is the skeleton for the social and political life of the Chinese. In the little villages, it is often the large families or the elders who hold civil and political power.
The Church has had to adapt to this from of organization. The Christian parish is a kind of elevation of the family and the village leaders almost automatically become Christian leaders. Whence comes this important conclusion that the life and fervor of Christians almost exclusively depends upon the shoulders of lay leaders. For let us not forget that many Chinese Catholics rarely see the priest, and must continually live without having the chance to go to Mass or the Sacraments.
These little Christian communities reflect the charity experienced in the early days of the Church. There is nothing they would not do for each otherCwhich, in the early days of the Church, brought out the exclamation from pagans: “See how these Christians love one another!” Such is the bond amongst Catholics in the Chinese countryside. This bond of charity helps us understand how they were able to survive centuries of persecution.
From 1900 to 1920, the Chinese Catholic population grew from 720,000 to around 2 million. The number of priests grew from 747 to 950. It was the lay catechists who played a major role in the greater part of those conversions. These were men and women, who had been trained in the mission schools, who now were paying something back for their training, by an apostolate which varied from person to person, according to their zeal and missionary team spirit. Some of these catechists, who saw their role as an extension of the priest, formed some of the best Catholics China has ever seen.
The second period extends from 1920 until the advent of the Communists. This period saw the birth of Catholic Action. At one point, there were 200 Catholic Action organizations and 30 groups of Catholic Youth organizations. The Church became more apostolic, leaving behind its ghetto mentality, courageously seeking converts for the Faith. By the 1930's a great enthusiasm was prevalent amongst the Catholics. Schools and universities were founded, who in turn began to circulate their own publications. In Shanghai, the work of Catholic Action was immensely successful, with many hospitals and schools being built, and regular “Catechism Weekends” being organized and run by lay catechists throughout all the suburbs of the city. The Shanghai president for Catholic Action, was responsible for 335,00 baptisms due to the way this catechizing had been organized.
During the war with Japan, which started in 1937, the laity involved in Catholic Action were often given the role of maintaining Catholic life and spreading the faith throughout China. Sometimes they would have to work undercover, sometimes in the openCdepending upon the circumstances. A large part of the Church’s survival and growth depended upon their devotion, heroism and zeal.
The Chinese Communist party had been in existence since the early twenties and civil war began to break out in the thirties, with the Communists defeating the Nationalists and taking over the country by 1949. In was shortly before this Communist takeover that the Legion of Mary arrived in China.
In 1948, Archbishop Riberi, the Internuncio to China, asked Fr. Aeden McGrath, a St. Columban missionary priest who had already been working in China since the thirties, to establish the Legion of Mary in China. Archbishop Riberi saw that, soon, the foreign missionary in China would be a marked man, and so would Chinese bishops and priests. The future of the Church in China could well depend upon fervent lay apostles. He hoped that these apostles could be formed by the Legion of Mary.
Fr. McGrath had started a Praesidium in his own parish back in 1937 and it had brought amazing results. Fr. McGrath set out on his mission of convincing the hierarchy to accept the Legion of Mary on a widespread scale. By 1948, the first Praesidia were founded. Within two years there were a thousand Praesidia throughout China. Very quickly it replaced Catholic Action as the main militant Catholic organization in China. Due to its great success, it was soon a prime target for Communist persecution.
The first Praesidium (local unit of the Legion) to be closed, by the Communist government, was that at Tienstin. This took place on July 13, 1951. Soon, the government proclaimed the same order for all existing Legion of Mary Praesidia, with Legionaries having to come forward and denounce the Legion as an American espionage organization.
Most refused to do so, and, at Shanghai, resistance was especially strong. The Communists, whose principles make them work away stubbornly at any obstacles they may meet, changed their tune and came up with a new formula required of churches. This second formula had a look of genuineness about it, while being far from that. No longer did they require Legionaries to denounce their organization, nor their Faith. Each church simply had to give a list of members who were Legionaries and the government would promise protection to them. This was the danger signal that drove the Legion underground. Details of members’ names, addresses and telephone numbers were destroyed.
However, the Legion had not only been planted within the citiesCin certain areas it had reached even the tiniest villages. A priest from south-west China relates how he formed a Legion Praesidium in one of the villages he served:
“After a lengthy preparation, and despite fierce opposition, a Praesidium was founded in the village. Being very individualistic, not having envisaged the possibility of working togetherCespecially not in mixed company. One young woman volunteered to join, then another. Then, soon after, two men, a young widow and a married woman also came forward. In all we had six volunteers. Enough to start a Praesidium, but the female side of it was very young. Mixed meetings of men and women, even prayer meetings, especially in the presence of the priest, would never get the approval of public opinion. Three female catechists, who were intended to give assurances to the malcontent villagers, were also invited.
“One must realize that, at the time, severe restrictions regarded the mixing of the sexes, were still in forceCsince that time the Communists have removed those barriers. It was just not acceptable to have mixed meetings except for the religious worship of the Church. Furthermore, the first meeting was held in public! From the moment the large statue of Our Lady was placed on the table, open to the curious gaze of the throng gathered around, the Legionaries immediately felt ill at ease and the women turned all crimson! However, once we started saying the Legion prayers, the atmosphere changed, the embarrassment disappeared and opposition fell away. The real work began the following week, when the meeting was held, as is the custom, behind closed doors. The individualists of yesterday immediately showed themselves capable of a wonderful teamwork. They undertook their assigned work without the least fear or anxiety, performing it with the utmost sincerity and devotion. After a month’s “breaking-in” they had already acquired the essential legionary reflexes.
“The Legion discipline, as described in the Legion Handbook, was strictly adhered to; Legion work was never interrupted, even during the busiest farming months. Prior to founding the Legion, they had said that they had no time for an active apostolateCnow they use their rest periods to perform that work. Recruiting is a slow affair. Nevertheless, over a period of six months, five other members were added to the initial six. Amongst them was a neophyte, two young lady catechists who had formerly been so narrow sighted and formal in their views, often saying: “It is beneath our dignity to mix with pagans and bad Catholics.” Now, after their sincere conversion, they are among the most active of Legionaries and, when faced by storms, will show a remarkable supernatural vision and admirable courage and humility. The case of those two catechists is typical of the change of opinion that the laity had, as a whole, once they saw the Legion in action.
“Among the Legionaries themselves, there was never any misunderstanding. Yet, at times, they were prone to discouragement. In neighboring villages, the Legion enjoyed some spectacular successes, with a impressive list of baptisms: two hundred in six months, in one particular area. Elsewhere, Praesidia grow and expand into new pastures without end. In the space of the same six months, one single parish had to form nine Praesidia and, consequently, one Curia to rule the Praesidia.”