Adoration and forgiveness in the toughest of circumstances of all

concrete wallThe bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Charlotte, the Most Rev. William George Curlin, just about 90 years old, was telling me some stories of priests he had met back in the day.

One was a Maryknoll priest (a great group way back in the day), who told him of his experience of adoration when he was locked in solitary confinement for four years in a Chinese prison. His cell wasn’t big enough for him to stand up or lie down, a typical torture in Asia.

At the beginning of his sentence, a cleaning lady made her way to his cell while she pretended to be sweeping, and nudged him through the bars, slipping a tiny vial with a tiny amount of wine in it. Occasional bread would also make its way to them. With this, he offered Mass and kept a bit of the Host in a crack in the wall. And then he proceeded to kneel daily in adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament for the next four years. He wasn’t alone in his cell at all.

Bishop Curlin told me another story of a priest who had survived the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau. He said that when Dachau was liberated, there was still one of the guards on the compound, shaking, scared to death, knowing it was all over, knowing that the Nazis lost the war, knowing it was now the end of his life. The survivor priest said that he went over to this guard and embraced him, then telling him that he forgave him. It is then, said the survivor priest, that his interior Dachau immediately left him, meaning all the bitterness and anger one would expect to have in such a death camp.

I imagine that the priest in China in the story above had to have this forgiveness in his own heart, for otherwise, adoration would simply not be possible.

2 Comments

Filed under Priesthood, Vocations

2 responses to “Adoration and forgiveness in the toughest of circumstances of all

  1. Monica Harris

    Yay, OLD Maryknollers–one named Father John Martin was instrumental in my father’s conversion from Baptist to Roman Catholic at age 20. (Fr. did a lot of missionary work in Mexico back in the day.)

    One excerpt from Father Francis Tan Tiande, a priest in China who died in 2009, has stayed with me:
    “Jailed in 1953 because of his faith, he was shipped to a forced labour camp in north-eastern China (Heilongjiang) where he spent the next 30 years.

    Sentenced to life in prison without a trial, he gradually saw his sentence reduced because for good behaviour in prison, where he always helped others lovingly.

    In 1983 he was allowed to return to Guangzhou, where he lived the rest of his life as an assistant priest, loved by Christians and non-Christians alike.

    In order to understand the depth of his faith and witness all we need to do is read his diary (published by AsiaNews in 1990 in Cina oggi, n. 10, pp 191-206) to see how he thought about his time in prison. In it he describes the injustices he saw, the trials by people’s courts against him for being a Catholic and a priest; the destitution and hunger all the prisoners had to endure. But he also describes his charity towards other prisoners and the guards, how he helped them rediscover their human dignity through faith in God. In one excerpt he wrote:

    “In the 30 years I spent in the north-east, farming was my main occupation. Each year, when spring came we had to fertilise a field that was as hard as steel [because of the extreme cold]. We used pickaxes to break the ground. Once the ground was loose, we would water it and plant the seeds. Today, when I describe all this, it does not all seem so bad. In reality we were underfed. All that work was beyond our capacity and each minute was an agony . . .”

    “People might wonder how I could survive such terrible conditions. For those who do not believe, it is an enigma with no solution. For those who believe it is God’s will. Life is man’s most precious gift. I must take care of this gift so as not be ungrateful. Hence I ate wild herbs to survive, and tree bark . . . Such were the conditions I lived in that I experienced my fellow inmates’ brutal actions . . . That pain was even worse than hunger. I wanted to run in the fields, shouting ‘Where are you God?’ . . . I cannot remember how many times I wanted to end it all, but at the crucial moment I saw Jesus on the cross looking at me with those merciful eyes . . . and telling me ‘Man of little faith! Do you doubt perhaps that I love you?”

    “Even during the years when showing a religious symbol was severely punished, I did not stop doing the sign of the cross among the prisoners. I was afraid that I might forget that everything came from His hands, that everything was a token of love, that everything was given to me so that I might be someone who could love. I was afraid that I might end up thinking that there was something I might not thank the Lord for, that I might end up being ashamed of Him, that I might think someone or something was stronger than Him. That ‘sign’ cost me several punishments . . . but I had to preserve my dignity as a believer in order not to find myself without strength.”

  2. Jane Raboin

    That is so moving. In my parish there are people from many countries. I like to see them. I know that many have suffered in their country of origin and perhaps, most likely in this country as well. It is beautiful to see their faith! I have friends from Vietnam Nam, Philipines, China, Mexico, Africa and other places as well. It is an inner city parish that also has a soup kitchen, a clothes closet and a nurse. Everyone volunteers their time. And of course, our dear Pastor was a frequent visitor of the Catholic Worker house in NY City. He is a living saint but would totally deny that. Okay, I’m rattling on. Good night, you all are in my prayers.

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