“Persecution is always the first law of any society because it is easier to suppress criticism than to meet it.” Wise words coming from a wise man. I just finished reading a book called ‘Challenges and Hopes’ that recounts a number of real stories coming from the suffering Catholic Church in China. These stories speak of heroism and of hope.

A Chinese priest, pastor of a small parish of around two hundred Catholics, was prohibited from functioning as a priest and was assigned to work as a carrier of charcoal. This was very tough for him because he was not used to do this kind of heavy manual labor. In the beginning, he entered in a deep crisis of faith. “Is this the reward I get for remaining faithful to my priesthood?” Carrying heavy loads of coal on one’s shoulder and delivering it to homes can break the spirit of many.

Then he realized that perhaps God is marking a new way of evangelizing for him. He started living his job in a Christian spirit. He could not preach with words but he could preach with his attitude.

Thirty years later he was allowed to go back to his parish and resume his ministry. Now over eight hundred people crowd his Church because the people remember him as the old charcoal carrier and they remember the spirit by which he did his job of carrying coal!

Another story. The water prison is cruel torture. Two prisoners are put back to back seated on a concrete table in a small dark dungeon flooded with water. They have no space to move until bedtime; only the table is above the water level. After forty days in these conditions, the prisoners either go crazy or are so distraught psychologically that they are ready to sign any confession. A number just fall in the water and are drowned.

This Catholic priest was put in this water prison with a companion who was bitter and cursing from day one. In contrast, the priest decided to make a private retreat and spend the time meditating! Before long, the non-Christian became curious as to how his companion could be so serene. He began to ask questions.

It was not long before this angry, sour man changed completely and one day asked the priest, “There is water here, what is to prevent me from being baptized?” And so the priest baptized him just as Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in the Acts of the Apostles! Water torture became an occasion of conversion!

This other story is amazing. He was an intellectual, non Catholic. She was a doctor, a Catholic. They got married and had one son. During one of the popular revolutions, he was deported and sent to a labor camp. The separation was very difficult for the wife who now had to work long hours during the day and care for their son during the night. Every night the mother and the son would pray together. Then, there was the pressure from the government to divorce her husband, renounce her religion and thus gain a number of political advantages. She refused.

Years passed. One day the news came that her husband and other intellectuals were being allowed to go home. When the day arrived, she went to the railway station to greet her husband back. Looking around her, she was surprised to discover that she and her son were the only family members on the platform welcoming the men back. None of the other women had been able to endure the long separation; they had all divorced and remarried.

When her husband saw this, he was so deeply touched that he asked to become a catechumen. Today he is a Catholic.

This also is remarkable. During the cultural revolution of the late sixties, a priest was put on public trail and was sentenced to death. A boy, the nephew of the priest, was present when his uncle was shot by a firing squad. He heard the rifles being fired and he saw the bullet enter his uncle’s heart. “I saw a fountain of blood coming out of his heart!” It was at that moment that he heard a voice within him, saying ‘You must become a priest to finish your uncle’s work’. Today he is a seminarian studying to become a priest…

“Alas, how many have been persecuted for the wrong of having been right?” Even now. Even here!

(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.