BR. PETERJoined our community during the early years in China.After the Revolution he was imprisoned for his faith for 27 years.Following his release from prison he left China to rejoin our community in Valyermo.The speech below tells something of his story.
A SKIFF CUTS THROUGH THE WAVES
A Discourse on October 15, 2000
Taken from Bro. Peter’s Autobiography, Dawn Breaks in the East, ch, 21
available at Abbey Books & Gifts
On October 15, 2000, in the evening, Fr. Abbot Francis Benedict presided at a solemn Mass in the Abbey Chapel in commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of my monastic profession. After his homily, I addressed this discourse to my brother monks and to about one hundred guests. Its original title was “Reflecting on the past in the light of the present with gratitude to the Lord.” Its English text was edited by Fr. Simon O’Donnell. It was issued the same year in the quarterly of our St. Andrew’s Abbey, the Valyermo Chronicle, fall 2000, No. 191, under the original title above-mentioned. An excerpt of its Chinese text was published in Faith and Outreach, a Chinese Catholic Digest in Monterey Park, CA, on December 15, 2001, under the title given by the magazine, A Life in theCompany of the Lord.
My dear brothers and sisters,
Good afternoon. Welcome to our Abbey for this special Mass. Today is Sunday. Fifty years ago today was a Sunday also. That morning about thirty guests attended the Mass in Latin and the liturgy of my monastic profession in the chapel on the first floor of our new monastery building in Chengdu. This afternoon in this chapel, which is three times bigger than the one in China, the guests present are four times as many as those of 1950 for the Mass in English and the liturgy for the fiftieth anniversary of my monastic profession.
At that time I was in the capital of Sichuan Province, in the area ruled by the Communists who trample on basic Human Rights. Today, I find myself here at Valyermo in the peaceful desert of California, in the United States of America, in a democratic country where religious freedom is respected. Now, except for Fr. Eleutherius and Fr. Werner, all of you who are present appear to me as new faces, new brothers and new sisters.
Fifty years are neither very short nor very long, but changes in every aspect have been great, deep, and will be memorable and unforgettable for the rest of my life. The day when I professed my monastic vows was just a short time after the Chinese Communists had occupied the whole Mainland. Their hostility and ill intention of destroying the Church had been learned long ago and were known to me and to all. For this reason, from the very start my profession was stamped with the brand of defending the Catholic Church, fighting the Red Dragon and thus being persecuted and tormented.
The keeping of my monastic vows was inevitably to be reflected in guarding the Truth, upholding the Faith, suffering imprisonment and enduring hardships during the first stage, thirty-four years long, of my vowed life. During the sixteen years of the second stage, however, this keeping seemed naturally to be embodied in recalling and writing down the experiences of my combat. In the course of the last half-century many dramatic episodes have been inserted into the symphony of my life.
On that October 27, the twelfth day after my profession, Fr. Prior Raphael and Fr. Werner were called to the Foreigner Affairs Section of the Chengdu Public Security Bureau. The director told them: “You are all still in good health and good shape. Go back to your own country where your work may be very useful. Here, we do not need the work of foreigners. We can do ourselves what is necessary to be done.” They were instructed to pack up and be ready within two weeks. The following day, Fr. Prior Raphael called me to his office, saying: “Now the Chinese Communists have asked us to leave the country. I was thinking of taking you abroad with us. Because our departure is near at hand, you have no time to go home to bid farewell to your parents. You may reluctantly endure this pain!” Fr. Gaetan immediately took a passport photo for me. This photo had been preserved by Fr. Eleutherius and reappeared in my book.
Twenty-four days later when they were ready to depart, a police officer came and told them: “No hurry to leave! When the day is set, we will notify you.” The departure postponed, they were for a long time in the uneasy mood of men who would be leaving very soon. After some time, they were placed under house arrest. Finally, some were even jailed, while others were expelled or ordered to leave within the prescribed time.
Since the spring of 1951, at Fr. Prior Raphael’s instructions to rent the monastery building, Fr. Werner entered into negotiations with the municipal hospital, our neighbor across the back wall. After many rounds of talks, a written agreement was reached at long last. Among the items of the agreement there were two reading thus: the annual rent had to be deposited in the bank under the account of the monastery; I had the right to live continuously in my room and should be welcomed at the hospital’s evening cultural party to be held there each weekend. Mr. Li Zhenyu, then the secretary and counselor of Fr. Prior Raphael, had a hand in the talks and the agreement. But, in reality, a secret Communist spy, he must have reported all this to the Communist authorities. Of course, they would never approve of this agreement, because the Municipal Communist Committee, the leading body of the city, had already decided to forcibly occupy our monastery at the opportune time.
Fr. Prior Raphael continued doing his best to find a way to get me out of the country. In the spring of 1951, when he heard that the neighboring Trappists had been trying to go to Hong Kong, he invited their superior, Fr. Subprior Vincent She to come to Chengdu to have a face-to-face talk. Having found out that it was still very difficult for them to obtain an exit permit, he had to give up his original intention of letting me join their community and thus go to Hong Kong with them.
One day in that late spring, during lunch time, a policeman from the local station came suddenly to the monastery. He questioned both me and Fr. Prior Raphael about whether I would go abroad. Knowing well his craft, Fr. Prior in reply only said: “It is your business if he will leave the country or not! “
On the 8th of that November, at nine o’clock in the morning, on my return from the local police station, where I gave witness to the Legion of Mary, I came across Fr. Prior Raphael on the road towards the front gates of the monastery building. While motioning to him that an armed soldier was standing on the wall and looking at us, I spoke to him at a distance in a low voice: “I am ordered to attend right now the public mass accusation assembly against the Legion of Mary held on the other side of our enclosure. “ Not hearing my words clearly, he looked surprised, making a detailed inquiry: “Will they really deport you also?”
From late April 1952 to early September 1953, I lived with my father in our home city. After dinner I used to take a walk on the high and long dike and pray my rosary. At times, pacing to and fro under the bright moon, looking up at the few visible stars in the sky and facing the river surging forward, I lamented my dire straits. I unburdened myself to the Lord: “Merciful and Almighty God, You are able to help me respond continuously and realize very soon Your religious vocation granted me as a favor If You let me become a fish temporarily, I would swim with the current to Chongqing, then into the Yangtze River; I would pass through Nanjing and Shanghai, enter the East Sea, turn southward and go to Taiwan. Having retrieved my liberty there, I would finally reach Belgium and resume my monastic life in the motherhouse!”
During those three years, I had intended to leave for Wuhan, for Shanghai and for Guangzhou and try to find a way to slip through the frontiers to get to Hong Kong. But I failed each time, because of the strict control and close surveillance of the Chinese Communist Party. Besides the police station, the neighborhood committee and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, they even penetrated our local Underground Catholic Church with three secret spies mistaken by us for loyal Catholics and good friends to whom we had told everything.
In the summer of 1955, I wrote to Fr. Gaetan Loriers, asking the mother Abbey for help to get me to Belgium through diplomatic channels.
If I had succeeded in my thinking and in my doings and had passed through the Bamboo Curtain in the early fifties, what would my fate have been? If I had been destined to be a member of this monastic community and to survive to this day, I would not have any struggle experiences to share with you on this memorable occasion.
What would have been my end, if I had forsaken the loving Lord and taken the wrong road voluntarily or involuntarily, at the outset or at the halfway point, following the Communists and joining the Patriotic Church? It would be absolutely certain that I would not have the privilege of celebrating this Golden Jubilee with you here and now. The disastrous consequences for me would not be limited to this one point only, but would extend to many more and graver ones! My fate would be unknown and fraught with grim possibilities. From the very beginning, the Chinese Communist regime has been striving to control the people in an all-round way and to harm their thoughts, hearts, moral integrity, souls, health and bodies with endless study sessions, criticism assemblies, struggle meetings and various political campaigns. Under such a regime it would have been difficult for me, though already transformed as their follower and slave, to escape their persecution. I would have become a miserable victim suffering total ruin of body, mind and soul in the end!
The will of God for me was irrevocable and bound to be carried out step by step, and to be achieved to the full in due time. I should keep my monastic vows professed to the Lord bya unique way of insisting on the true Faith and being ready to drink the cup of salvation for Him. This ought to be my only choice and my only outlet.
On November 7, 1955, I was finally arrested and jailed. In prison I was all alone, without relatives, without friends. I seemed to be surrounded by birds and beasts, eyeing their prey, roaring and clamoring day and night. They attempted to break my fighting will, corrupt my thoughts, injure my convictions, capture my mind, ruin my spiritual and physical health and take away my faith. Meanwhile, confused ideas, upset heart, dreadful feelings, wounded beliefs and demoralized spirit swept over me repeatedly. Responding to my daily prayers, however, Our merciful Lord and Our Lady rescued me from them all again and again.
I had written in jail and in camp some wrong and compunctious “confessions”. I also wrote many declarations to correct, cancel and disown them and penned not a few articles refuting the charges of the Chinese Communist court. I had landed in a predicament of compromise or passive resistance. But, after a while I returned courageously to the ideal state of doing an active, serious and steadfast battle.
I was very often criticized and struggled against in small or big sessions, but I had neither been totally overthrown, nor had I abandoned my principles, nor departed from my correct position. I was once beaten black and blue, but I still resolutely refused to hold and read the “Quotations” of Mao Zedong. My body was not harmed to the degree of external deformity or internal injury either. Holding up my head and throwing out my chest, I had been confined three times in a solitary cell, but I had walked out still with chin up and chest out. Several times I was tortured, but each time released on the torturer’s own initiative. My right hand had been very tightly cuffed and thus crippled, but I can still write with it, and these pages of my talk today are its latest fruit. I had been driven to the verge of death more than once, but I always had a narrow escape. Of course, this also meant the great loss of a crown of a martyr, the crown already in reach. Though I had to sleep, eat and live for ten years with many sick fellow prisoners suffering from tuberculosis, hepatitis, asthma, dermatosis and other diseases, I was never infected. Up to this day, I still feel basically healthy and find it unnecessary to see a doctor or take medicine.
The adverse circumstances and hard struggles of the three years following my release from jail, my return to my native county and my reunion with my relatives made me discouraged in heart and uncertain of the future, but did not extinguish my raging fire of love for the Lord, nor shake my will to fight to the death. Rather, regardless of success or failure, good or bad fortune, I made up my mind to fight to win or die. In His love, the Lord, in the end, crowned my battle with victory.
The prayers my monastic brothers here had offered for me every day during Compline since the reestablishment of the monastery at Valyermo in 1956 bore fruit. I came at last to join them on November 27, 1984, putting on my monastic habit for the first time and living a normal monastic life. With this, my most important task and mission in the second stage of my vocation had begun.
In January and February of 1985, I had written down the last clearly-memorized 853 poems from a total of 2,600 on little note pads provided by Fr. Abbot Francis. Then I began to draft my struggle experiences in Chinese. On June 29, the just-finished draft was presented to the Lord in gratitude for the grace of my solemn profession. It was published in installments in a Taiwan Catholic monthly Constantinian for eleven months beginning in September. That fall the first draft of the English translation was completed in Oregon City, Oregon, by Fr. Bernard Hwang Kuo-wei and Dr. Loretta Matulich. In October 1986, this revised and retyped English translation was respectfully presented to the Holy Father Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. Afterwards, I continued to review and enlarge the translation without ceasing and without end, while rendering a number of my documents and poems into English.
My poems composed in jail had brought me, for one thing, criticism, handcuffing, shackling and additional penalty, but, for another, inspirations, courage, strength, hope and today even a very great joy of seeing a part of them published in the United States.
In 1990, the final manuscript in three volumes was sent to more than ten publishing houses, but not accepted. I had come to the end of my tether. I faced an impasse. At this desperate moment, in early 1991, our merciful Lord moved Mr. Jim Moeller, a publisher of music tapes, and his good friend, Ms. Cynthia Clark, a high school English teacher, to answer my pressing need. After one and a half years of our joint efforts, in July 1992, the first edition of my autobiography was released.
In September 1999, a new updated edition appeared. The French version from English by Mrs. Frederique Barloy was also published this February in France. A collection of my poems came out in September 1995 as well. I plan to get the Chinese original and the second English revised edition done in two or three years. I hope some friends will help with the Spanish version.
Now I am looking forward to going to Europe once more next May to offer to the Pope my present three books in English and French and to meet with my French translator, Mrs. Frederique Barloy. I want to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady’s shrines in Lourdes and in Fatima, and to see some friends in Belgium and in France. If God wills, in 2003 when the Chinese original has been published in Taiwan, I intend to pay a visit to that precious island and to Hong Kong to see some relatives and friends and to share my experiences with my fellow Catholics and countrymen there.
To make a long story short, the past fifty years of my monastic professed life were committed to an exceptional mission and task under peculiar circumstances and conditions. I have carried out consciously or unconsciously, willingly or reluctantly, faithfully or faithlessly, the will of the Lord for me, sometimes common and sometimes uncommon, sometimes clear and sometimes unclear. To my or even to your great surprise, the will of the Lord for me should have been accomplished in my sinfulness, in my weakness and in my lowliness, with my meager strength, with my superficial knowledge, with my short experiences, with my shallow English and with my poor French. It is not hard to imagine: without the grace of God, without the support of the Blessed Virgin Mary and without the prayers and many various helps of my dear brothers and sisters, present and not present, living and deceased, this would have been completely impossible and would be simply like the Chinese saying: Climbing a tree to catch fish!
Therefore, at the close of my talk, I would like to express my sincerest and deepest gratitude, first of all, to Our Lord Himself, then to Our Lady, to all the Angels and Saints, to all of you, my dear friends, and to the brother monks of this monastic community, alive or departed. I want to thank Fr. Abbot Francis and the whole community for the organization of this joyous celebration, and to thank Fr. Abbot Francis for his inspiring words in his homily, Fr. Prior Simon for editing these pages and all of you for your presence, prayers and kindness.
I wish that, with the grace of God and with the assistance of our heavenly loving Mother and all the Saints, all of us will continue to do our best to heed, to answer and to follow Christ’s call. His vocation for us is generally the same but individually different. May we do it as well as we can until we arrive at the end of our pilgrimage of faith! Thus, all of us will enter His Kindgom and see His face for ever and ever! This should be our common and joyful ending and hope so well described in the Chinese proverb: Reaching the same goal by different roads!
That is all!
Many thanks to all of you for listening with great patience!