Recently in China

by Sister Mary Carita Pendergast, S.C.

Bishop FanIt was 1990 when Bishop Peter Joseph Fan and Father Jacob Shu were incarcerated in separate labor camps far distant from their north China diocese of Baoding. Although the Chinese government had refused to divulge the whereabouts of the two churchmen, Bishop Fan had somehow attained that knowledge and had sent this message to Father Shu:

"No hope for me to be free! The only thing on my mind is how to help the aged Sisters in our diocese. I want you to try your best when you are free to have them sheltered if their relatives can't afford to do so."
During Holy Week of 1992, Bishop Fan died in prison. Right: Bishop Fan
A Home for the Aged

Shortly afterward Father Shu was released and later consecrated Bishop. He immediately made plans to carry out Bishop Fan's wishes and in 1994 was able, with the generous cooperation of his people, to erect a two-story brick building within the boundary of their church property. It provided rooms for 20 occupants, plus quarters for 10 young women who were thinking of forming a Sisterhood and who offered to care for the elderly religious.

90-year-old Miss Kao

Miss Mildred Kao, in her nineties although not a religious, was one of those sheltered in Bishop Shu's refuge. During the 30's and 40's she had been headmistress of our elementary and secondary schools in Yuanling and of our extension school in Wuki.

Even before the breakup of our missions, she had been apprehended and jailed for refusing to testify against the Sisters of Charity and the Passionist Fathers. She remained in prison for 27 years.

Upon her release, her non-Christian relatives were reluctant to take her into their homes for fear of government reprisals. When Bishop Shu heard of her plight, he invited her into his St. Joseph's Home for the Aged where she was happy in being free to attend daily Mass and to chant morning and evening prayers with the Christians of the parish.

End of a Dream

One day in 1996 a large group of Communist soldiers approached the mission compound and banged on the doors of the Home. When admitted, they first ordered the 10 young women who conducted the Home to return to their own families within three days. Then they began ousting the old people, some of them blind, some lame, and others paralyzed. But for Miss Kao they had special treatment.

They began questioning her about the charges made against her more than 46 years earlier. She still maintained the innocence of the American priests and sisters.

With that, one of the younger men began manhandling her. "Be careful of her," warned an older soldier, she's very old and very fragile." The younger soldier shoved Miss Kao down the stairs and out into the street.

The usual crowd that gathers so easily in China had formed curiously about the entrance. Some of them took up a collection for the injured woman so that she could hire a taxi and go to the home of a friend. This good man, who had recommended her to Bishop Shu in the first place, kept her for three days before arranging to send her to a grandnephew in southern China.

Epilogue

Within the next few days Bishop Shu was arrested and disappeared into a labor camp somewhere.

A group of bureaucrats moved into the vacated St. Joseph's Home and barbed wire was strung around the entrance to the cathedral.

Bishop Shu is still being held incommunicado. The bureaucrats still occupy the two-story home for the aged. And the entrance to the cathedral is still barricaded with barbed wire.

Sr. Carita joined the Sisters of Charity in 1925, volunteered for the Chinese missions in 1932, suffered through the Japanese and Communist invasions, before being expelled with the other American Sisters by the Communists in 1951. She taught English in New Jersey schools and served for 10 years as vicar for religious in the Trenton NJ diocese. Now a vigorous 94 (b. Jan 19, 1904) she keeps in touch with her Chinese friends and from Convent Station, NJ continues to chronicle the history of the Hunan missions.

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