Communist China is known for the way it oppressed the Catholic faithful. Many of the facts are still shrouded in secrecy and anonymity. But some facts are surfacing … compelling witnesses of the vitality of the Gospel.
A secret agent of the opposition party was arrested and was thrown into prison. He had to wear leg irons all day and endure grueling interrogation during the day. In the same cell there was a priest who empathized with his sufferings and was constantly wondering how he could help him in his pain.
The words that Saint Peter addressed to the paralytic begging for alms, kept forcibly coming to his mind, ‘I have neither silver not gold, but I give you what I have!’ So, finally he told him frankly, “Listen, friend, I cannot release you from here, but I sincerely believe that Jesus Christ can alleviate your pain” and he went on explaining to him who is this Jesus Christ and he even taught him how to make the sign of the Cross.
The next day the inmate started the day by making the sign of the cross, while the priest, seeing this, began praying quietly for him. Gradually, the agent started to relax more and more. Until one evening, he confessed. “You know, Sir. Jesus Christ is amazing. He has actually changed my sufferings into joy!”
Friends who evangelize in China speak always of the zeal these persecuted Chinese have for the Gospel. How they spontaneously go out every Sunday to other villages and speak with the people, whom they meet in the roads, giving them rosaries and holy pictures and speaking to them about Jesus.
There was this layman who after receiving the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, went to a protestant Church to learn skills how to preach! Then, he just went on the road, many times begging for his food and drink, sleeping wherever, many times on doorsteps. People were moved by his willingness to endure difficulties for this message of the Father’s love and of Jesus’ victory obtained through the cross. It is calculated that over one thousand people entered the Church through his simple and yet radical way of evangelizing.
When Rose, a member of the Legion of Mary, was arrested and put into prison, she did not back off. She came from a rich family, she could have stayed in Hong Kong, but she preferred to come and minister in the Church in China. This is where her people were suffering.
In the late 50s, conditions were very harsh. People had very little to eat and in prison the situation was even worse. Occasionally a few beans were added to the daily dish of congee, a type of rice porridge that is eaten in many Asian countries. What would Rose do? She would select the beans from her bowl and would give them to other prisoners whom she thought were worse off than her!
This selfless altruism touched not only the hearts of many of the inmates but also the hearts of the Communist guards. They wanted to learn the beauty of Christianity from her…
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”, we pray in the Our Father. A professor in the English language, because of his beliefs was labeled a revolutionary and put into prison. This was the time of the Cultural Revolution and torture was rampant.
The regime changed in the 70s and he was released. He was allowed to resume his job and was given the responsibility of the final high school exam that opened the door to entrance into US universities. On the day of the exam, the lobby was full of students, many of them with their parents. The moment the professor entered the room, he immediately recognized a number of his former torturers among the parents. He made eye contact with them. They recognized each other. The parents were alarmed. The idea of revenge came forcibly in the mind of the professor. But then he remembered the words of the Our Father.
He graded the students fairly and many of them passed the exam. The parents were surprised. They even came to thank him during the night asking him how he could be so fair. They became friends. Some of them became catechumens and today are baptized Catholics! The silent power of forgiveness.
People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, “in life and action than in theories.” The Pope is right again!
(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.