Fr Alphonse L’Heureux, a Trappist monk living in China, was tortured to death by Chinese soldiers from the Marxist side of the civil war in 1947. The monk’s death is almost too shocking too tell here, but one testimony stays: a soldier is said to have remarked that Fr L’Heureux’s serene expression made him look like “the man on the cross in the abbey church”.
In the last century, Chinese Catholicism has often been an imitation of Christ, and many heroes of the faith have ended up looking like the man on the Cross. Scholars such as Anthony Clark – who I got the story above from – have done remarkable work to bring these figures to light.
Mao’s victory in 1949, and the establishment of the People’s Republic, ensured that persecution would grow. Bishop Ignatius Kung, the great Bishop of Shanghai, wrote a pastoral letter to his diocese calling for intense evangelisation, and new devotion to the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament and the rosary. His plan was to strengthen Catholics’ faith for the coming trials. Bishop Kung himself was sent to prison from 1955 to 1985.
The leader of Shanghai’s youth organisations was Fr Beda Chang SJ, an experienced educator and skilled negotiator. As Fr Paul Mariani has written, Fr Chang did not seek conflict; but when the Communist Party insisted that Chinese Catholics break communion with Rome, he resisted. They took him to prison, where he was deprived of food and sleep and brutally interrogated. Months later, he was dead.
Among the many astonishing testimonies from this era is that of Margaret Chu, who was in her early teens when Mao came to power, and who was full of ambition. In 1955, along with other Catholics, she was put under pressure to denounce Bishop Kung as a criminal. Those Catholics who did so were given their freedom and career opportunities. Priests who surrendered were given good positions in the new government-run church. Chu refused, and so began a 25-year period of resistance. Her small Catholic community, which depended on an “underground” priest, was destroyed by a government spy who informed on them.
In 1958 Chu was again asked to denounce the Church. When she refused, she was sent to prison for the next 21 years, and underwent brainwashing and physical bullying. In the first prison, Catholics were not allowed to communicate, and were banned from taking showers. In the next, a prison factory, Chu had to work 18-hour days, seven days a week, and lost her appetite from “extreme fatigue”. For 14 years Cho was banned from home visits. On a rare trip outside prison she secretly married another Catholic inmate. Only in 1980, after US-China relations thawed, was she released. Chu moved to America.
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