Wednesday, 25 May 2011

In the week that the Holy Father has asked us to pray for China....

...comes an extract from a book called 'Calvary in China' by Father Robert Greene, a Maryknoll Missionary. Fr Greene was ministering to his community in Southern China in 1949 when the communists under the tyrant, Chairman Mao, assumed control.

As a child, I read some very graphic comics produced, I believe, by the Maryknoll Fathers, that featured many heart wrenching and bloody stories of Catholic persecution under the Reds. I also had a priest friend, a French Vincentian Father whom I knew in the early 60s. He was short and very (apparently) fat but, it transpired that he had been imprisoned since 1948 and his rather bloated appearance was the result of continued starvation and torture. He once showed me his wrists which were permanently and deeply indented where he was semi permanently bound up with wire.

These men had a profound effect on me; they had quietly sacrificed much for the sake of Christ and both had experienced the cross on Calvary.

At this stage in the book Fr Greene had been confined to quarters for some months and subject to regular beatings, vile abuse, threats and vilification from some of his flock who had embraced the new ideology. He was subject to constant false 'confessions' being thrust in front of him to sign.
Confessions that denied God and claimed that the holy man was a political agent of the USA. He was also questioned about his involvement in what they described as a subversive and evil organisation - The Legion of Mary!

The chapter is headed "My matchstick Rosary"

"....The judge angrily rose from his chair and started around the table towards me, and I was preparing for a blow from his fist. With my hands this time bound tightly with rope behind my back, it would have been impossible to ward off his assault. But, instead of striking me he uttered some curses and stuck under my eyes a page of his law book which, he said, told how a criminal should conduct himself in the presence of his judge....
...During the half-waking, half delirious hours of the painfully long days I would try to remove from my mind the sinister look of the inhuman judge, and the intentions of all those who had come together against me. For some small comfort I would try to pray. I would try to say the Rosary on my fingers. The prayers came hard and distractedly. It was impossible to keep count of the number of prayers I said. Then for the first time I noticed five or six burnt safety matches lying in one of the foul corners of my cell. I picked up the matchsticks and broke each one in half, making ten piece about an inch long. I placed them in a row on the board bed, and I squatted in front of the matches and started slowly to say the Hail Marys of the Rosary After each prayer I would move each matchstick about two inches to the left, then go on to th next prayer......
...As I prayed I had not noticed the surly guards at the window and the door gazing at me in wonderment. No doubt about it, the sight of me squatting there on the boards staring at broken bits of burnt matches and moving them occasionally from side to side must have convinced these men that I had reached an advanced stage of dementia praecox. However, according to their plans I was apparently somewhat ahead of schedule - they had still some more use for me, and they sounded rather anxious as they shouted out: "What are you doing there with those sticks?"
"Thinking," I replied slowly, "just thinking".

Posted by Richard Collins - Linen on the Hedgerow


  1. Rosary to the rescue! What an inspiring story. I moan at having to get up early to pray (I decided to do this myself, but still moan about it)in the comfort of a warm home. I will think of this man tomorrow a.m. It will encourage my attitude to alter. Thanks for posting Richard.

  2. As one who has improvised to count my Hail Marys on occasion, I am touched by this priest's discovery and use of match sticks...

    This poignant post brought to mind a homily which stated that freedom is not license to do what you will; rather, it is opportunity to do the will of God. May we use our abundant freedom as well as this priest used his little ration of it. On the other hand, it could be argued that this priest was freer than we are.

    Bl. Titus Brandsma, you know what freedom and imprisonment are, too: pray for us. In Jesus Name, amen.


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