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33 Martyrs of Yang Kia Ping
Veritas et Libertas ^ | 10/6/10 | Theresa Marie Moreau

Posted on 11/30/2010 7:11:00 AM PST by marshmallow

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. .............................– Tertullian, from the “Apologeticus”

Father Chrysostomus Chang plumbed the depths of his human will for a supernatural strength. With only a few minutes remaining of his life in the material world, he lifted his thoughts to the spiritual. Through screams from the mob, he addressed his confreres at his side one last time, to prepare them not for death, but for life, everlasting life.

“We’re going to die for God. Let us lift our hearts one more time, in offering our total beings,” he said.

Helpless, the six Trappist monks stood handcuffed and chained on a makeshift platform, targets of a frenzied hatred that surged toward them. The blood-encrusted, lice-infested men, wearing rags caked in their own filth, had nowhere to run, no one to help them. After six months of mind-bending interrogations and body-rending torture, it was over. It was all over.

The verdict had just been read by a Chinese Communist officer: Death. To be carried out immediately.

Hundreds of crazed peasants, with fists raised, with contorted faces, with spit-covered lips, screamed rehearsed slogans of approval for the approaching slaughter. Executioners – reliable Party henchmen – rushed to ready their rifles to exterminate the Roman Catholic monks, believers in the superstitious cult, lovers of the God on the Cross imported from the Imperialist West.

And so it happened on January 28, 1948, in the dead of winter in Pan Pu Tsun, an unmapped village, a frigid heathen hell in the Mongolian mountains, somewhere in the frost-covered north of the Republic of China.

Just over the ridge from the pandemonium staged by the soulless Chinese Communists – believers in the materialistic cult, lovers of the god of death and destruction – lay the charred ruins of Our Lady of Consolation, the once-majestic abbey the monks had called home.

Jostled in the madness, the monks fell to their knees. With their swollen hands tied and chained behind their backs, they couldn’t even cross themselves – In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost – a final time.

The death squad – Communist soldiers at the ready – loaded their rifles with fresh rounds of ammo.

Shots rang out. One, then the next, followed by the next, the monks collapsed upon the blood-splashed, frozen ground. Their lifeless bodies, dragged to a nearby sewage ditch and dumped into a heap, one on top of the other. Alerted by the shots, wild dogs, roaming the village’s dirt roads, scavenging for scraps, hurried over to the bodies to investigate. Sniffing, they lapped up the warm blood, steaming in the icy air.

It was all over. Our Lady of Consolation was no more.

The tragic tale of Our Lady of Consolation began 64 years earlier on June 16, 1883. On that glorious day, as the hot summer wind from the Gobi Desert carried its golden dust eastward, and the cicada nymphs emerged reborn, buzzing in celebration of their emergence into new life from their old shell of death, Father Ephrem Seignol, a Trappist monk stood on a ledge, in the shadow of West Soul Mountain. Atop a ridge nearly 10,000 feet high, that much closer to God, he glimpsed for the first time at the valley of Yang Kia Ping (translation: Yang Family Land). Before his eyes lay the birthplace of the Trappist Community in China.

With him, Father Ephrem brought little else except his dreams, his duties of state, God’s will and the name of the future abbey. Before he had departed from his priory in Tamie, France, for China, from the West for the East, from the Occident for the Orient, he visited his close friend Father John Bosco, in Turin, Italy. The future saint suggested that the abbey be christened with the same name as the chapel in which they were sitting: Our Lady of Consolation. And so it would be.

The Trappists had answered a call from Roman Catholics in the village of Fan Shan. Desperate for Mass and the sacraments on a regular basis, the Chinese natives had enticed the monks with an offer to sell to the religious order an immense valley of rocky, untilled, virgin land in Chahar province (now Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Hebei province).

Yang Kia Ping, approximately 60 square miles in size, about 75 miles – as the Mongolian ring-necked pheasant flies – northwest of Peking (old form of Beijing), the northern capital of what was at that time Imperial China, where Empress Dowager Cixi ruled from the Inner Palace of the Forbidden City.

Travel to the site of the future abbey was measured in days, not hours.

Back in 1883, when Father Ephrem arrived in the valley, the Imperial Peking-Kalgan Railway didn’t exist. Construction wouldn’t even begin until 1905, with its completion in October 1909. The fastest, smoothest form of travel consisted of jostling atop a mule, along narrow dirtways through the fields and plains. To reach the stony plateau in the Taihang Mountains in Huailai County, a traveler had to be on alert through the heavily wooded areas, on the lookout for bandits and bears. Along the death-defying paths, one had to rely on a trustworthy mule that tested the rock-strewn trails with its hoof before putting its weight down, hugging close to towers of sheer rock reaching skyward to avoid falling straight down the ravine on the other side.

To form a Trappist religious Community from a valley of rocks seemed intimidating, but not impossible. With religious recruits from Europe and from the local villages, despite a slow start, eventually, on those rocks, they built their church, Our Lady of Consolation, an impressive replica of the architectural beauty at Mount St. Bernard Abbey. Pilgrims arriving for the first time and looking down upon the abbey from any ridge high in the surrounding mountains, saw a Community so large inside its enclosure, it appeared like any village in the hills. The church was encircled by several single-story buildings and three courtyards. A vegetable garden sprouted up in the middle of the valley, along with its blossoming fruit trees and, of course, a luscious vineyard, where Brother Ireneus Wang, the self-taught viticulturist, tenderly coaxed the grapes, harvested for the Mass wine.

From the Chinese countryside, and even from the highly cultured, international port city of Shanghai, many boys and men had felt the call to the Trappist austere way of life, with its silence and solitude, prayer and penance. The abbey had been blessed with vocations: oblates, postulants and novices. So many joined the Community, that Pope Pius XI, in his 1926 encyclical “Rerum Ecclesiae,” lauded the monks for their exceptional work in the missions and of winning vocations by bringing pagans to the Church. Two years later, on April 29, 1928, the abbey opened a daughterhouse, Our Lady of Joy, with 95 Community members, about 3 miles from Chengtingfu (old form of Zhengding), in the province of Hopei (old form of Hebei).

By the time Christmas 1936 rolled around, Our Lady of Consolation was at its height, with the Community numbering around 120 monks, mostly Chinese natives, who had attended Mass in the abbey’s chapel built for the faithful from the surrounding villages. The first, built in 1909, at Gate No. 2, marked the entrance and exit in the second enclosure wall. A larger chapel was built in 1934, at Gate No. 1, during the construction of the third, outermost wall, which stood 12 feet high and spanned more than 2 miles. Along its western partition, the wall was dotted with loopholes, narrow slits that were never used for its intended purpose – rifles, but instead as peepholes to peer out at the ever-flowing Pei Ho river.

Even though majestic, the abbey reflected the austere nature of any cloister of Trappists, the common name for the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, an offshoot of the Order of St. Benedict. The new order, established in 1664 at the Abbey of La Trappe, aimed to follow more closely the literal translation of “The Rule of St. Benedict” and focused on the penitential aspect of monasticism: little food, no meat, hard manual labor and strict silence.

Life inside the abbey’s walls, peaceful; however, life outside, complete turmoil.

The Republican Revolution of 1911 ended the centuries-long dynastic rule and made way for the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), which became China’s official government, formed by a number of Republican cliques that had ousted the traditional rulers. Then the Communists in Moscow, the Red capital of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, sent some of its cogs in the Communist International machine to Shanghai, where the Comintern successfully established the Communist Party, in 1921.

Communists successfully penetrated into the Nationalist political organization by clandestine means. But in 1927, the Nationalists – headed by Generalissimo Kai-Shek Chiang – uncovered and ousted its Red contingent, because of its incitement and sadistic fondness of mob violence – especially at the encouragement of its ringleader Tse-Tung Mao. That ejection in 1927 ignited the highly volatile, on-again-off-again Chinese Civil War between the Nationalists and Communists, between Chiang and Mao, which ravaged China for more than two decades.

Also a factor was the Empire of Japan, which saw the fractures in China’s infrastructure as an opportunity to make land grabs. In an attempt to establish their own political and economic domination, in 1931, the Japanese invaded Manchuria, a region in northeast China, where they wanted to get their hands on China’s natural resources of coal, iron, gold and giant forests. Six years later, on July 7, 1937 (referred to as 7-7-7), the Second Chinese-Japanese War began when the Imperial Japanese Army marched victoriously into Peking, then into Shanghai and on and on throughout China.

As the Japanese advanced, the Nationalists withdrew from Peking and northern China. The Japanese could not fill all the holes left by the Nationalists in their retreat, and the areas left vacant and vulnerable were taken over by the Communists – the party opposing the Nationalists.

In October 1937, only a few months after the outbreak of the Second Chinese-Japanese War, the Communists reached Huailai County and the valley of Yang Kia Ping. Our Lady of Consolation found itself between the two forces. Japanese soldiers to the north and the east. To the south and the west, Chinese Communist soldiers.

But a peace existed, tentatively, but it existed.

The Japanese had not been hostile to the abbey; to the contrary, they had been respectful, out of reverence for the spiritual nature of the Community.

So, too, the Communists treated the monks with respect, face to face, but their non-aggressive actions were not sincere. Avowed atheists, Communists consider religion to be one of the evils of the traditional, feudal, “old” world – a declared enemy in Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto,” published in 1848. Also, because the abbey had been established by Europeans, the monks were considered Western invaders, imperialistic enemies of the Chinese Marxists, who disregarded the fact that Marxism was, yet, another European import.

For two years, the Reds, experts at gathering and using information as power, continued their faux friendship, as they secretly reconned intelligence from the Community. When it was learned that the monks had a cache of weapons, the Communists made a move to get their hands on the firearms. Politely, they asked to borrow the guns, claiming they were needed to fight the Japanese. Politely, the monks refused. But, Communists have never liked refusals.

On October 15, 1939, around noon, the oblates – the youngest members of the abbey’s Community – headed outside the enclosure for their usual Sunday walk in the mountains, where they liked to climb sections of the Great Wall. When they reached Gate No. 1, at the third enclosure wall, the young monks-in-training found hundreds of Communist soldiers blocking their exit. Not permitted to leave, the youths notified the porter, who notified more monks, who notified the superior.

It was an official visit, the Reds claimed, as per the orders of Long Ho and Te Chu, the commanders-in-chief of their army. The officers wanted all weapons to be handed over – immediately. Several hours of unsuccessful negotiations passed between the Trappists and the Communists, both inflexible.

At a stalemate, the monks met off to the side, out of earshot of the Reds and discussed what to do. Some believed they should not comply; others felt they should; both wanted to avoid a possible unpleasant circumstance in the future. Finally, a decision was reached. The monks opened the gate and stepped out of the way as the troops entered the compound. The Trappists willingly surrendered all their weapons – all 28 rifles, which French authorities in Peking had sent after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, so the monks could protect themselves.

But those 28 rifles weren’t good enough. The Communists demanded the monks also hand over what they had hidden in their arsenal. When the monks responded that they didn’t have any weapons secretly stashed, the Communists refused to accept that answer.

They grabbed Father Antonius Fan, the prior, and dragged him out to the orchard, where they drew a rope over his chest and under his arms tied behind his back, then strung him up on a tree. For three hours, he dangled, with his toes just a breath away from touching the ground, until he was cut loose.

At the same time, the Communist henchmen cornered and questioned Brother Alexius Liu. What that short monk lacked in height, he more than made up for in personal strength as he was physically tortured. When that failed to garner information, the Reds tried to scare him into talking.

Shots were fired out in the orchard.

“Do you hear those shots?” they asked him. “Those are the executions of the monks who didn’t want to talk! That’s the road you’re going to march down, if you don’t declare where the rest of the guns are hidden.”

“Even if you kill me, I have nothing more to say! There are no more!” Brother Alexius answered.

More shots fired.

“Do you hear those? That’s to warn you that you can either talk or be shot.”

“I’m not afraid of dying. Kill me, if you want to.”

They ordered him to step before his executioners.

With fear searing through his blood, Brother Alexius shook uncontrollably as he stepped forward. An order was shouted. A shot, fired. A single bullet passed, just grazing the monk’s head.

“Talk now, clearly and without evasion and tricks. Where are the other guns and ammunition hidden?”

“To tell you the truth,” he answered, “according to the dictates of my conscience, and for the well being of the abbey, I will once again tell you that there are no more arms, other than the ones you have already seized. No more!”

Exasperated, the soldiers decided to let him go.

For five days, the Communists searched every inch of the abbey, inside and out, moving furniture, probing cupboards, lifting floorboards, digging in the gardens and excavating the storage caves. After the futile search turned up nothing more, the soldiers withdrew from the abbey on Friday, October 20, apologizing profusely for any trouble they had caused.

However, the Reds left behind their goons: the kan pu, the cadres, the Party’s unofficial police – the muscle, the enforcers of the dictates of the Communist Party. They were to slowly put the squeeze on the monks. After the rifles, it was food that was demanded. Since the monks had no weapons to protect themselves or their property, they could do nothing as the Reds confidently walked in with empty arms and walked out with armloads of food. Next, the squeals of pigs could be heard as they were slaughtered, then cows. After food, it was money the Reds demanded, then more money, in ever increasing increments.

Completely under the Red thumbs of the Communists, the monks secretly made plans to get out.

On April 4, 1940, the exodus began. In the first group, five oblates sneaked by the cadres and made their way over the mountains to the abbey’s daughterhouse, Our Lady of Joy, in Hopei province, about 190 miles southwest of Peking. In the following months, by dribs and drabs, 25 more members of the Community – including novices, simple professed and young priests – successfully reached the house of refuge. In a final disappearing act, 12 oblates walked all the way to the Marist Brothers residence a few miles outside the walls of Peking.

When the cadres noticed the dwindling numbers in the Community, the two-faced Party goons decided they had to do something. Hiding their true faces behind their smiling faces, the cadres met with the monks, begged forgiveness for their greedy behavior and promised to be nicer and less demanding in the future. For six months, the abbey had no trouble from the Communists, so thinking the Reds had truly changed their ways, it was decided that those members of the Community who had been sent away would be called back home.

Around March 1941, by the time most of the young men had been recalled to the abbey, the Communists pulled back their masks and revealed their true faces when they placed the whole Community under house arrest. Under constant surveillance, every move was watched. Nothing could be done by the monks without permission of the Communists. No one went in; no one went out unless authorized.

At the time, politically, strategically, the Communists were very busy building up their military strength and setting up their own administrative system in northern China, including the areas around the abbey. For, during World War II, the Communists had tricked the Nationalists into a civil-war truce, feigning the two could join forces to fight the Japanese. However, the Reds had no intentions of keeping the truce, but used it as an opportunity to make sure the Nationalists were worn down by the war against the Japanese.

With the end of World War II, on August 15, 1945, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Japanese forces retreated from their positions around the world, thus withdrawing from China. The end of the war also ended the so-called truce between Mao’s Communists and Chiang’s Nationalists. The all-out civil war between the two ensued in a brutal fight, with Mao chomping down on Chiang, eventually hounding him all the way to Formosa (old Portuguese name of Taiwan).

But the Nationalists weren’t the only targets during the civil war. The Communists also started targeting other enemies: counterrevolutionaries, religious believers and landlords.

The Trappists were all three.

The Communists wanted to destroy the abbey and its Community, but to legitimize their destruction of the abbey, the Communists needed to produce evidence that the monks committed some sort of crime.

In August 1945, during the hottest days of the summer, the Communists began turning up the heat even more. For health reasons, supposedly, a Communist general, a commissioner of the People, and his assistant stopped off at the abbey for a bit of a rest. It was not all that unusual for travelers to lodge for short periods in Yang Kia Ping, what all the locals called Our Lady of Consolation. However, ever wary of the Communists, the abbot, Father Alexis Baillon, assigned Brother Adrianus Wang, the sub-guest master, to keep an eye on the two guests during their stay, which coincided with a burial inside the enclosure.

The general’s assistant attended the funeral and, later, expressed his admiration for the solemnity and beauty of the ceremony, to Brother Adrianus.

“The funeral was so beautiful. At home, we are buried like dogs,” the assistant said, adding, “The general treats me like a dog. If I could, I would try to kill him.”

“Don’t do it here,” Brother Adrianus said.

A few days later, the general went for a little walk, but as soon as he returned, he abruptly left the abbey without any explanation. Weeks later, Communist soldiers arrived at the abbey and arrested Brother Adrianus, claiming that the officer’s assistant had revealed under torture that the monk had suggested the general be assassinated. The Brother’s room was searched, and there soldiers found a notebook with the following entry, a quote from the abbot, Father Alexis: “Pray God to destroy the Communists.”

On the suspicion of plotting the general’s death, soldiers next arrested the abbot, Father Alexis, and Father Maurus Bougon, who had been the guest master during the general’s stay. Devastated and inconsolable for believing that he was the cause of so much trouble, Brother Adrianus, fell to his knees, pounded his chest (Trappist sign language for expressing sorrow) and sobbed uncontrollably, calling himself Judas, for the betrayal he believed that he had committed against the Community.

On October 25, 1945, all arrested were hauled off to Huang An, a village about 20 miles from the abbey, where they were imprisoned in a small room, without furniture, without heat. Father Alexis and Father Maurus had their feet shackled to the floor with irons, all winter long, until March, when the abbey received a notice: Send the mules to fetch the abbot and the other prisoners. On March 17, 1946, all were returned to the abbey and set free except the abbot, Father Alexis, who was ordered to leave China. On May 12, he headed back to France.

On December 1, 1946, an announcement was made in the Chapter Room, where the monks met daily for the reading of a chapter from “The Rule of St. Benedict.” In the absence of a father abbot, Father Michaelus Hsu was to be the superior of the Community.

Intelligent and highly cultured, Father Michaelus had been born in the Tsing-Pu district of Shanghai on March 18, 1901, into a family with an aristocratic background. He was a direct descendant (12th generation) of Prime Minister Kuang-Chi “Paul” Hsu – a member of Empress Dowager Cixi’s Imperial Court, guardian and tutor of the sons of the Imperial House and chancellor of the National Institute. After his death in 1633, the prime minister was buried with great honors. But, perhaps, most importantly, he had been converted to the Faith by Father Matteo Ricci (Society of Jesus), an Italian and one of the founding fathers of the Jesuit mission in China.

As for Father Maurus, upon his return from imprisonment, his religious superiors in Europe gave him an ultimatum: Return to France, or minister a parish in China. He chose to remain in China and was appointed a parish priest in Peimong, south of Peking.

As the abbey restructured its hierarchy, the local Communists continued to set up and strategize for the upcoming “struggle” against the monks.

In the “Communist Manifesto,” Karl Marx wrote, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

Marx’s philosophy of the “struggle,” later coined dialectical materialism, can be understood in a formula: Thesis plus antithesis equals synthesis. To make it even simpler and to apply it to the Chinese Communist agenda: Minor enemies pitted against major enemy equals new minor enemies pitted against new major enemy.

The struggle was a form of elimination that – when enacted by Mao and his henchmen – eliminated political enemies – minor and major.

To prepare for the proper political struggle nationally, Communists began establishing neighborhood associations in China’s cities and peasant associations in the villages. The associations held mandatory-attendance political meetings, brainwashing sessions organized to push the Party’s particular struggle against whomever the current political enemy was.

At times, when a particular enemy was to be targeted and “struggled” against, the enemy could be attacked at either a small struggle session (attended by members of a single association) or at a large struggle rally (attended by members of several neighboring associations). Attendance by members, always mandatory. At a large struggle rally, the targets were usually placed on a raised platform, before hundreds and hundreds of members, who screamed rehearsed slogans as cadres walked through the crowds, agitating and inciting acts of rage. Violence – often sadistic and fatal – was encouraged and regarded as legitimate acts of revenge by the oppressed People against their oppressors.

The Trappists of Our Lady of Consolation were considered oppressors. They were also considered major enemies.

In the province of Chahar, there was one Communist official who wanted the abbey destroyed and its members “liquidated.” A bitter fanatic, he searched for someone with a like mind, and eventually he found the perfect Party man for the job and appointed him to take care of the extermination. That man was an ambitious man, who hated everything having to do with God and loved everything having to do with the Communist Party. That man was an intelligent man, who had attended a university in Peking, where he passed his law exams. That man, like Mao, was from a family of landowners (considered oppressors, enemies of the People), and, also like Mao, he renounced his family.

That man was Tui-Shih Li.

The struggle against the abbey began in April 1947, when, at the peasant association meetings in the villages surrounding the Trappist Community, the Communists began agitating the peasants, turning them against the monks. The cadres told the peasants that all the land the monks possessed actually belonged to the People, that the monks were trying to be lords over the peasants, that the monks were the oppressors and that the peasants were the oppressed People.

For two months, the Communists agitated the peasants. Then they struck the abbey.

On July 1, 1947, two monks were tending some livestock on the abbey’s property in Hsing Chuang, about 1 mile north of the enclosure wall, when they were confronted and hauled before a People’s Court, a staged mass struggle meeting orchestrated by the Communists. Charged and declared guilty of oppressing the People, the lay brothers were ordered to hand over some of the abbey’s goats and cows to the People.

The next day, July 2, 1947, the Communists made their big push on the monks.

Two messengers arrived at the abbey and ordered Father Seraphinus Hsih and Father Chrysostomus Chang to stand trial before a People’s Court. Under guard, the monks were marched about 1.5 miles south of the abbey, down to a dry riverbed in the village of Li Chia Wan Tze. Forced onto a platform, the two stood before a gathering of peasants, assembled from many villages in the surrounding areas.

Accused of alleged offenses that had occurred almost 50 years before, the two had to answer to charges that included: During the time of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, foreign troops had oppressed the People of north China and that Our Lady of Consolation had been built with indemnities exacted from the Chinese government by the foreign powers.

“These monks are guilty,” shouted cadres. “Do you agree or disagree?”

“We agree!” the peasants shouted back.

Unexpectedly, a young villager stepped forward and complained that during the time of the Boxer Rebellion, a Christian had killed a goat belonging to his grandfather, then sought refuge in the abbey.

Quickly, the chief judge tabulated the damages: One goat has two baby goats two times a year. After 48 years the total number would be 192 baby goats.

“The will of the People must be fulfilled. For this, the abbey must give property to the People,” the judge ruled. “Are you with us or not?”

“With you!” screamed the peasants, the same peasants who had sought refuge in the abbey in times of danger, had sought food in the abbey in times of famine, had sought relief in the abbey in times of stress. It was those same peasants, who had bestowed the abbey with several memorial tablets, as gifts of appreciation for the years of selfless aid.

Released temporarily, Father Seraphinus and Father Chrysostomus made several trips back and forth from the village to the abbey back to the village to declare whatever goods and property the abbey possessed. Finally, a decision was made. The abbey was to hand over the farm property in Hsing Chuang to the grandson, to make up for the damages allegedly suffered by his grandfather 47 years before. And to the peasants, the abbey would give 50 blankets.

On July 7, the two priests returned to the abbey with a group of men from the village, who were to collect the blankets. Within hours, word had spread from village to village that the peasants of Li Chia Wan Tze were taking all of the abbey’s goods. Afraid of missing out on the loot, villagers rushed to the Yang Kia Ping, en masse. At the stroke of midnight, on July 8, 1947, peasants from an estimated 30 villages gathered outside the wall, pounding on Gate No. 1.

Wakened, the abbey’s porter went to check on all the noise. As soon as he opened the gate, he was beaten, and the peasants with torches rushed onto the property, pushing through the monks who had also wakened and attempted to calm down the mob who ran to the dormitory. The peasants grabbed mattresses right out from under the sick, and emptied the straw from the serge cloth – a rarity in those parts. They snatched quilts, linens, blankets. They ripped down curtains. Anything they could get their hands on, they dragged off.

By 2 a.m., the looting, the madness was over.

Usually, at that time in the morning, the appointed bell ringer would light the passages, open the church doors and awaken the sleeping monks by ringing the dormitory bell for the space of a Miserere. But that morning, it was not necessary. The monks, heartbroken that the peasants had turned on them, had already made their way to the church of Our Lady of Consolation, where they sought consolation with their pre-dawn routine of mental prayer, Canonical Office, the Angelus and private masses.

By morning’s light, around 7 a.m., the roar of the mob, with its shouts and screams heard from a great distance, approached quickly. The monks rushed to the Tabernacle, to rescue and consume the remaining Hosts, before the second wave of looters, armed with the military backup, swarmed through the abbey, demanding and taking more.

The library was destroyed. Valuable leather covers were ripped from the binding of the books by the illiterate peasants who threw up the loose-leaf pages that went flying, destroying a lifetime of work by Father Simon Hsu, the abbey’s talented bookbinder. Some of the villagers dashed into the refectory, where members of the Community were eating, and snatched the napkins and utensils from the monks’ hands. The storerooms were broken into, and the contents – beans, corn, millet, sorghum, lentils, nuts, honey, salt, and cheese made from their goats’ milk – were confiscated, not for the peasants, but for the Communist soldiers. From the tool house, the shoe shop, the blacksmith shop everything ransacked and looted. In the tailor shop, three of the five sewing machines destroyed; the other two carted away for the Communists. In the church, the mob tied up the sacristan, stole his keys and proceeded to carry off the chalices, vestments and other sacred objects. One of the peasants was seen with a priest’s stole tied around his waist.

Once the abbey had been gutted of all material possessions, the Reds turned on the monks and arrested all 75, of which only five were foreigners. The rest were native Chinese. Locked up in the Chapter Room, which no longer had any furniture after the looting, the monks were forced to sleep on the stone floor, under the low-vaulted ceiling. In that same room, many of the men, as postulants had received the holy habit. As novices, many had made their temporary professions.

Father Michaelus, the superior, embraced from the very beginning a tragic ending.

“We will all die together,” he predicted.

For two days and two nights the prisoners waited. Outside the windows, in those mountains of northern China, the buzzing of the cicadas pierced the air, as the resurrected insects emerged from their nymph-shell tombs.

On July 10, the door swung open, and the men were rounded up and herded, two-by-two, through the cloister, through the gardens, through the gates and led to a level field outside the third enclosure wall. On the side of a mountain, hundreds and hundreds of peasants, from about 30 villages, raised their fists, screamed slogans. Banners, splashed with large Chinese characters, snapped in the hot wind from the west. The largest flag, displayed in blood-red: the trial of yang kia ping by all villages.

A struggle rally was about to begin.

Three priests were singled out. Again, Father Seraphinus and Father Chrysostomus, but when officials called for the superior of the abbey, Father Augustinus Faure, a much-loved, old Frenchman, stepped forward to spare the superior, Father Michaelus. The rest of the monks, ordered to stand near the table where the judges sat, baked in the heat. Soldiers, at the command, ripped the habits from some of the monks, stripping them, baring their torsos, to sizzle under the blazing mid-day sun.

Chief judge Chu-Jan Su presided.

Father Seraphinus was called first.

Again, he had to answer to charges, not against himself, but against the abbey. Charges included that the abbey had been responsible for the suppression of the Boxers by foreign powers, that the abbey had received weapons from the French government to use against the People of the region, and that the abbey had hid precious treasures in the hills, to keep them from the People.

Then a new charge was lodged against him. Because he was the cellarer, the person in charge of the farms and buildings, he was accused of usurping the best land in the region and living off the People by keeping for the monks the produce of the fertile acres.

After each accusation, he claimed innocence, for which he was brutally clubbed.

Then Father Chrysostomus was called.

Chu-Jan Su announced, “We have found Seraphinus Hsih guilty of crimes against the People. If you do not agree with our verdict and confess them yourself, you are as good as dead. Is it true, yes or no?”

“No! It is not true!” Father Chrysostomus answered.

Torturers at his side were given a signal. They raised their clubs and pounded away on him.

Then Father Augustinus was called. He stepped forward and tried to reason with Chu-Jan Su, but his calm demeanor only infuriated the Communist judge, who ordered that the old priest receive the same treatment as the other two.

After the accusations, after the beatings, Chu-Jan Su announced that the abbey should reimburse the People for any and all losses and damages.

Father Augustinus said, “To give you what you ask, even though guiltless of what you say, 10 Yang Kia Pings would not suffice.”

The Party goons rushed to the old man, clubbing him down for his statement.

The actual superior, Father Michaelus, felt so guilt ridden that the old Frenchman had assumed the position of the superior and had taken the beatings for him, that he shook uncontrollably and had to be held up by monks standing near him, as they were rounded up and led back to the abbey. At first, locked up in the church, they were later moved to the dormitory, where they were watched, beaten and given little to eat.

On the morning of July 23, 1947, the soldiers swung open the doors, rounding up the men, kicking them out of the dormitory. Herded toward the church, the monks – the old and infirm as well as the young and strong – were shoved into the lower choral seats. Red soldiers sat in the choir stalls, where the priests once stood, chanting the Divine Office. Peasants filled the rest of the church.

A desk for the judges had been placed underneath the extinguished sanctuary lamp in the presbytery, where each day the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary had been offered. Flanked by his assistants, the head judge sat in the middle.

It was Tui-Shih Li.

From his seat, he looked at the monks and bit down on the lit cigarette sticking out from between his teeth.

Father Guglielmus Cambourieu, gifted with a very sensitive nature, whispered to his confreres, “We’re all going to die martyrs. Let’s make a general Act of Contrition.”

They were to be tried before another People’s Court.

Again, Father Seraphinus was called first.

The court accused him of traveling from village to village, spying among the peasants to gather information for the Japanese during the Second Chinese-Japanese War that ended with the end of World War II.

Father Seraphinus denied the charge and rejected the accusation as absurd.

With a simple order, Li’s men relentlessly clubbed the monk.

“Show a little mercy! Show a little mercy!” Father Seraphinus cried out.

“Now is not the time for mercy,” Li said, puffing away on his cigarette, surrounded in a cloud of smoke. “Now is the time for revenge.”

Village catechist Maria Chang, from the Yihsien district, was called forward. Abandoned as a child, she had been raised by the Daughters of Charity. Told what was expected of her, she was to be a witness for the prosecution.

“It was not Father Seraphinus Hsih who came to our village!” she testified. “It was Father Maurus Bougon. And he did not come to seek information for the Japanese; he came to bring the sacraments to the sick and dying!”

Livid that she went against orders and testified in favor of the accused, Li ordered her tied to a granite pillar and clubbed. Repeatedly, the goons hit her on the head and back.

From the lower choral seats, where the monks sat, a voice cried out.

“It’s inhuman to savagely beat a woman!”

It was Brother Isidorus Ying.

When Maria Chang slumped to the floor, her attackers yanked down a hanging banner and tossed it over her limp body. Then they went over to her defender, Brother Isidorus, grabbed him and beat him as they had beaten the catechist.

Next, Father Chrysostomus was called.

From his seat, Li boasted that he was going to make Father Chrysostomus confess everything. But Li didn’t know who he was dealing with.

As an oblate accepted into the abbey, the young Chrysostomus had been quarrelsome and stubborn, downright unpleasant at times. But as he matured, he harnessed his faults. With his mind and with his will, he persevered to control his weak, contentious human nature, until he changed so much he became highly regarded by the others in the Community as a man of great virtue. That’s who Li was dealing with.

Father Chrysostomus was questioned. Accused. Beaten. But he bore all in silence, with a calm that infuriated Li. The more the monk remained silent, the more the torturers attacked him. He fell to the floor, taking the hits where he lay, when a fat, old, good-natured monk, Brother Paulus Pan, who had taught the young Chrysostomus from the age of 6 to 12, rushed to the priest and crouched down at his side, trying to block the blows with his own body. He was pulled off, thrown out of the way, and the beating of Father Chrysostomus continued.

With a signal from Li, the trial ended.

“These criminals are all guilty! What is your opinion?” he called out to those assembled.

“We agree! We agree!” the peasants responded.

“What is your verdict?” the judges asked the peasants.

“They must die! Hand them over to us! We will take stones and kill them!” they screamed.

“We can only take the People’s decision as our decision, for the Communist government is the People’s Government. But, we raise one question. Do you, People, want all the monks to suffer or only the more responsible?”

“They deserve to die! All of them!” they screamed.

“To avoid a general slaughter, we will ask the governor to take the cause in his own hands, and only those guilty will be punished,” Li concluded.

Immediately, soldiers ordered eight of the monks deemed most guilty over to the presbytery step, where most had prostrated themselves before making their solemn professions years before. One-by-one, they were shackled hand and foot. They and all the others had their black, knee-length scapulars pulled off from over their white-wool religious habits, which were then chopped off at the knees. All belts, rosaries, medals and other precious objects were confiscated. Those with eyeglasses had them taken away. All monks were locked up in the refectory, but later divided into smaller groups and placed in different rooms throughout the abbey. Some were placed in solitary confinement. All were kept under strict guard day and night.

Impatiently, Li waited for the go-ahead for the executions from the officials at Communist district headquarters in Kalgan (old form of Zhangjiakou), the capital city of Chahar province.

During the wait, all the monks were forced to write “confessions,” autobiographies with pages and pages and pages filled with all the minutiae of daily life, excruciating details about family, friends, studies, the religious life, even about the sacred vessels and precious religious objects.

To extract information, Li continued the interrogations, pacing back and forth, chomping down on his cigarettes during the sessions. So furious at times, he foamed at the mouth, ranted, screamed death threats. After each question from Li, his goons beat the monk, no matter how old or how sick. At first, the blows were only on the lower half of the body, but then the torture became so severe, frequently the men lost consciousness. One of the monks, Father Benedictus-Josephus Labre Hou fainted three times during one session.

The torturers also employed different techniques. At one point, Father Michaelus, the superior, was forced on top of the abbey’s mill to push the grindstone, intended to serve as an example to scare and motivate his nephew, Brother Eligius Hsu, who had accompanied his uncle to the abbey in the summer of 1937 and joined the Community a year later. Instead of frightening his nephew, he encouraged him to be strong under torture.

From atop the grist mill next to the cow barn, Father Michaelus yelled to his nephew, “Look, sooner or later I will die. To me, it is of little importance. But you, if you obey the Communists, how will you save your soul?”

Word about Li’s sadistic cruelties endured by the monks made its way to the ears of Tso-Yi Fu, a Nationalist general HQ’d in Peking. So furious was he to hear what the Trappists had endured, that he vowed to march to Yang Kia Ping and liberate the monks of Our Lady of Consolation from the blood-drenched hands of the Communists. He ordered his troops to grab their gear and hop aboard the Imperial Peking-Kalgan Railway train. ASAP.

However, Li learned of the planned rescue march and hurriedly made his own plans to evacuate his prisoners to a hideout in the mountains.

During the night of August 12, Li assembled the monks.

“You have been blinded by your religious superiors and by your life behind the cloistered walls,” Li told them. “You should see how life in China has changed under the Communists.”

That night, packs filled with food – mostly for the soldiers – were strapped onto the backs of the monks, many with their hands cuffed behind their backs and their ankles weighed down with chains. The soldiers herded their prisoners outdoors, through Gate No. 1 at the outermost enclosure wall, and toward the mountain trails. Whipped and beaten with sticks like mules, the monks stumbled along, up incredibly dark mountain paths nearly invisible under the waxing crescent moon.

Without rest, the marchers continued until after noon the next day, when they reached Chang Ko Chuang, Li’s immediate destination. The village was a Communist outpost already picked clean by the Reds. The procession veered toward a once-beautiful home, confiscated from a landlord, an enemy of the People. Given to the People, the residence had been trashed by the People. Herded into sectioned-off rooms, the monks collapsed onto the floors, exhausted from too much walking and too little food.

The march had been too much for one man. As soon as the pack had been lifted from the back of Brother Bruno Fu (b. 1868), the 79-year-old fell to the floor, never to rise again. Two days later, on August 15, 1947, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he should have been celebrating the golden jubilee of his solemn and final vows. Instead, the kindhearted old man lay dead. The proto-martyr of the Trappist monks of Our Lady of Consolation, had been born in Hopei province, part of Ho Kiang Hsien, but the charitable and pious monk would never return to his home; his body was dumped without ceremony in a shallow grave.

After hearing that the abbey had been abandoned by the Communists, the Nationalist general, Tso-Yi Fu, cancelled the mission, abandoned his rescue plans and ordered his troops to turn around.

Li had successfully avoided a showdown. On August 18, he decided to return everyone back to the abbey. Another black night, and the monks marched down the mountain paths toward Yang Kia Ping. By the time the prisoners filed through Gate No 1, slogged toward their cells, two more neared death. By August 20, both were dead. Without ceremony, but inside the enclosure, they were buried.

Brother Philippus Liu (b. 1877), a horticulturist for most of his life, was from the district of Feng Tai Hsien, a little south of Peking in Hopei province.

Brother Clemens Kao (b. 1899), physically handicapped, had been born in Chahar province, in the Yu Chow Hsien district, where many Trappist vocations blossomed.

Within days of the Communists’ return, again, Nationalist General Tso-Yi Fu gave the order to gear up and head out. Destination: abbey. And, again, Li determined his best defense was distance, so he planned another transfer of all prisoners and supplies to a hideout in the mountains that offered more protection.

Soldiers rounded up the prisoners, and those with their arms and legs free were soon restrained with cuffs until those ran out, then piano wire was twisted and knotted around wrists. Packs were strapped onto their backs. In the thick of the night, Li ordered the march to begin, heading to their ultimate destination: the Communist-held village of Mu Chia Chwang, located an estimated 65 miles from the abbey.

August 28, 1947. Under a waning gibbous moon, the Death March began, the final march for many.

The caravan of prisoners left Our Lady of Consolation and headed south. Bent over from the heavy supplies, and with their hands restrained behind their backs, the monks stumbled forward, with the chains around their bleeding ankles clanking along the rough and stony paths. The pace, frantic and frenetic. Rest, forbidden, the soldiers kept the prisoners moving with threats and whips, shouts and sticks.

Soldiers taunted, “You believe in God! If your God exists, why doesn’t He help you? Why doesn’t He get you out of here?”

After a grueling 20-mile march through the night and into the morning, Li halted everyone at Ta Lung Men, in Hopei province, near a branch of the Great Wall. But the stay was only brief before orders were given to get up and get moving. They veered southeast, headed for a breach between two steep mountains.

During the summer months, torrential downpours often arrived unannounced. So, too, during the march, when even the weather seemed against the monks. Sudden, unforgiving rains dropped down like weights. Around noon, as the prisoners and their torturers crossed over a crest, they headed into a freezing deluge that soaked the monks, in their thin summer clothing and cotton shoes.

Brutalized and humiliated, the monks lacked food, they lacked clothing, but there was no lack of beatings from the Reds. Some of the Trappists, so old and so weak, could not walk another step on their own, so along the way, the strongest picked up a few small trees and branches, which they fixed into litters to carry the fallen.

On August 31, they reached the village of Tai Ping Tsun, and the prisoners were herded into pig pens, where they briefly rested in rain-soaked pig dung until forced up and out once again.

Along the way, on the night of September 6, somewhere in the district of La Hsun Hsien, those carrying the litter of Father Guglielmus Cambourieu, slipped and lost their grip. The old priest, originally with the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris, tumbled onto the ground, where he bashed his head against a rock. Although bleeding profusely, his gaping wound went undetected in the black night, until the marchers stopped in the little village of Ma Lai Tsun, high in the mountains of Hopei province. In the dark, last rites were secretly administered, with urgency, and Father Guglielmus (b. 1874) died shortly after. He had been the one who had predicted during the trial in the church that they were going to die martyrs. Without ceremony, he was quickly buried, and the marchers continued. He would never return to his native homeland of Auvergne, France.

By the time the marchers arrived in Teng Chia Yu, on September 8, the monks who carried the litter of Father Stephanus Maury (b. 1886) knew that the priest, originally a French Lazarist with the Congregation of the Mission, didn’t have long to live. At some point he had felt death approaching and signaled that he wanted to make his last confession. In a narrow bend along the path, Father Sebastianus Pian, carrying the right front corner nodded for others to delay on a turn. There, he bent over, listened to the dying man’s final words and pronounced absolution.

Lagging behind, Brother Damianus Hwang finally reached the village. With his arms bound behind his back, he could only crawl forward on his knees. Years earlier, he had suffered frostbite on his feet and, subsequently, walked with great difficulty. After his feet gave out on the march, he fell to his knees and could only drag himself along. The soldiers whipped him, kicked him, punched him, then threw him into a pigsty alongside the pigs.

Rain continued. Wind continued. Without light in their cells, they spent all their hours in the dark. Without heat, only the fire of Christ in their hearts warmed them. Without quilts, frost blanketed them in the early morning. Without water to cleanse their bodies, only lice flowed freely on their flesh. Without solid food, only diarrhea blasted through their bowels, usually where they sat, without permission to relieve themselves properly. Without winter clothing, only their summer clothing, soaked in their own filth, covered them.

All the while, interrogations continued. Li, always biting down on a cigarette between his teeth, paced back and forth under a cloud of silver-gray smoke. Stomping his feet. Slamming down his fist. Screaming. Taunting the glorious rising of the Communist Party and the destruction of the Catholic Church. It all thrilled him.

“Yang Kia Ping has been destroyed to its foundation, and it will never rise again,” he taunted. “Before too long, there will be no more Catholic Church in all of China!”

To prove his point, Li sent Father Theodorus Yuan and Brother Alexius Liu, under a heavy guard, to return to the abbey to see for themselves.

They arrived at dawn, and stood on a ledge, in the shadows of West Soul Mountain. They looked down at Yang Kia Ping, at their former home, Our Lady of Consolation. It had been destroyed. The two were marched back to their cells, to their chains, and reported back to the others that, indeed, their former home was nothing but smoking ruins. Only the mule stables remained standing, seemingly a visual testament to the stubborn nature of the animal. The rest, rubble amid ashes.

Li had planned to win Father Seraphinus Hsih over to his side. It had happened before with others. Others too weak to withstand the emotional, physical and mental torture had succumbed.

But Father Seraphinus was not like the others. He was not like those too weak to withstand the torture. He was strong. His mental strength held him up, held him together. A master orator and rhetorician, a native of the Paoting (old form of Baoding) diocese in Hopei province, he surpassed all in the abbey, even the elegant and much-educated superior, Father Michaelus Hsu. The most brilliant of the brilliant men at the abbey, there had been big plans for Father Seraphinus. He was to be the first, the very first native Chinese abbot.

No, he was most definitely not like the others.

The more he refused Li’s encouragement and enticement of apostasy, the more the Communists pounded away on him, beating him, clubbing him, kicking him without stopping. The more he remained constant in his faith, the more the Communists resented him, loathed him, hated him. With each passing day, the brutality of his torturers increased. His hands were bound behind his back by tying his thumbs together with wire, then his big toes were bound together with wire, and, finally, his legs were pulled behind him so that his toes and thumbs were joined by a short wire, so short that he could only kneel or lie on his side at all times. He remained hogtied for several weeks, and the beatings continued.

“We know that you don’t fear death, but we will beat and torture you continuously so that you will never possess more than half of your life. Thus being half alive and half dead, you will agree with what we say,” the torturers taunted.

When Father Seraphinus returned to his place among the other prisoners after interrogations, he never complained. He merely lay with his body quivering from pain; only, occasionally, a sob would escape.

But Father Seraphinus never gave in.

Father Chrysostomus was kept in solitary confinement at all times in a filth-laden sty while at Teng Chia Yu, alongside the pigs. During interrogations, he was frequently tortured by being suspended from the ceiling. His inner and outer strength seemed supernatural. Like the others, he endured all in silence, but once, during one of the interrogations, he asked for a blanket.

“You don’t think right,” his interrogator answered. “Or if you do, you don’t speak what you think. It is only proper that you should sleep with pigs.”

Never-ending suffering for some, but for others, the suffering ended.

At Teng Chia Yu, Father Alphonsus L’Heureux (b. 1894) had been separated from the others. A missionary with the Society of Jesus, he switched to the Trappist monastery late in life. A French Canadian, strong in body and will. When he worked in the fields, he put all his heart and soul into it, and could do the same work in one afternoon that three Chinese men did in two days. Strong in faith and will, as soon as he returned from the fields, without fail, he headed straight to the church for the Stations of the Cross, then kneeled before the altar of the Sacred Heart for contemplation. Every day, he went to the Sacrament of Penance.

With that strength of will, he faced his interrogators and their taunts.

“Ha! If He’s a God who does not care to help you, or one who cannot help you, you can have Him,” guards taunted. “For our part, we don’t believe in God.”

Backed with scholarship of the pre-Vatican II Jesuits, Father Alphonsus refuted vigorously their arguments, for which he was brutally tortured, until he could only lay on the ground, in solitary confinement, barely alive, without a blanket or even a rag to cover his body in the cold. Suffering from dysentery, his feces, like white mucus, encrusted his trousers that were never removed or cleaned. When he lay dying, his hands, bound with steel wire behind his back since the trial on July 23, were finally freed, but the wrists had swelled, nearly unrecognizable with red, gaping wounds that resembled opened, toothless mouths screaming.

On Friday, September 12, the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, rain poured steadily in the Chinese village of Teng Chia Yu. Autumn, the most beautiful season in the Taihang Mountains, with the explosion of blood red from the Chinese maples dotting the landscape with its blood red on the slopes.

Father Alphonsus called out from his cell.

Close by, in Father Sebastianus Pian’s cell, a young Red soldier, less cruel than the others, heard, but couldn’t understand the priest’s cries.

“That foreigner is calling out. Go and see what he wants,” the soldier told Father Sebastianus, who approached and kneeled at the side of the dying priest.

“I want this,” he said, raising his filthy, wounded right hand and painfully tracing with it the sign of the cross.

Father Alphonsus wanted to make his confession. From his spot on the bare floor, in his soiled trousers, crawling with lice, he whispered his confession, and as he said his Act of Contrition, Father Sebastianus pronounced the absolution.

“Amen,” Father Alphonsus said, himself, then asked for a cup of water. Between sips, he looked up and smiled.

“In a short time, I will go to Heaven,” he said.

“We will meet again in Heaven, then,” Father Sebastianus answered.

“I shall die tomorrow – Mary’s day. I’ll be very happy to die. In Heaven, I shall pray for all of you. Be brave.”

The young, Red soldier approached Father Alphonsus and said, “Old Father, are you still alive?”

“I will die soon. I thank you for all you have done for me. You have been very good to me.”

The next morning, September 13, 1947, the cook brought food for Father Alphonsus. As he opened the door, he called to the priest. But there was no answer. When he touched the cold body, he knew he was dead.

The young, Red soldier, less cruel than the others, approached the monks. In a reverential whisper, he described the priest’s death.

“That man died very peacefully. He looked just like the other man in your figure-10 frame at Yang Kia Ping.”

Instantly, the monks understood the profound meaning. In written Chinese, the character for the number 10 is an upright cross, which is referred to as a figure-10 frame. At Yang Kia Ping, where their abbey stood, the soldier had seen a crucifix.

It was true.

Brother Marcellus Chang, Father Sebastianus Pian and two other monks were ordered to bury the body of Father Alphonsus.

As Brother Marcellus looked down, he saw his dead confrere’s legs were crossed, with his shrunken right foot resting above the left. His hands, with bones sticking out at the wrists, were folded atop his breast. Upon his face, a peaceful, serene beauty.

Looking upon the smiling face, Father Sebastianus thought, He does not look like a corpse, at all.

The monks placed the body of Father Alphonsus upon a stretcher. Lifting the bier, the monks genuflected, praying in their hearts as they walked to a nearby mountain slope, where the reticent gravediggers began their sorrowful task far from the abbey, where they should be celebrating the eternal life with the austere beauty of a Trappist burial.

Back at the abbey, when Father Alphonsus approached the end, he would have been tenderly placed on the floor, atop a serge cloth, under which would have been spread some straw over a cross of blessed ashes, with his confreres praying around him. After the agony, his face, hands and feet would have been washed, then he would have been clothed in his choir dress, with the hood pulled just slightly over his face. Only when his body was placed in its final resting place, without box, would the hood have been pulled down completely.

With shouts and cracks of their whips, the soldiers broke the meditations of the burial party, mid-dig, when the hole was less than a foot deep. Impatient because of the rain, the Reds forced the monks to stop shoveling and to dump Father Alphonsus into his shallow grave, with only a thin covering of loose earth, which quickly washed away.

Father Alphonsus was soon joined by another, Father Emilius Ying (b. 1886). A native of the province of Shantung (old form of Shandong), he had been a rather cantankerous priest, who angered easily, especially against the foreigners, the Western invaders in his beloved China. But when he died in Teng Chia Yu, on September 23, it was said that he died of a broken heart. Despite his enduring strength and health, it proved too much for him that his very torturers were not foreigners, but his fellow Chinese.

Then for five more, the suffering ended at Teng Chia Yu.

Brother Bartholomeus Chin (b. 1893), one of several vocations from the Jesuit mission Sien Hsien, in Hopei province.

Brother Ludovicus Gonzaga Jen (b. 1872), who was from the Suanhwafu diocese.

Brother Hieronymus Li (b. 1873), who was from the district of Yu Chow Hsien, in Chahar province.

Brother Marcus Li (b. 1885), another vocation from Sien Hsien, in Hopei province.

Brother Conradus Ma (b. 1872), born in Peking, who was sickly, old and infirm.

At the announcement of each death, Li could barely contain his glee.

“Wonderful! We have saved one more bullet!” he cheered.

After each death, four monks, escorted by weapon-ready soldiers, carried each body, where they would be forced to dump their confrere in a slightly dug hole, then covered over with a powdering of dirt. At night, the smell of death lured the wolves and wild dogs that unearthed the decaying bodies, tearing off legs and arms, gnawing on the flesh and muscle. What wasn’t devoured was left lying on the ground, visible. Only when the villagers of Teng Chia Yu complained, were the dead reburied, with the mauled remains re-interred in a grave slightly deeper, or just deep enough.

But in the midst of the macabre, at times, there was beauty.

One of the few Europeans from Our Lady of Consolation, Father Aelredus Drost, born in Amsterdam, had been gifted with a beautiful singing voice. After the soldiers learned of his talent, they often demanded that he entertain them with songs from his native country. Covered in filth, in chains, from the dark, from the cold, from the rain-drenched jail cell, the humble monk obeyed his captors, and the Taihang Mountains of northern China resounded with the beautiful songs of the Netherlands.

In September, Li gained a little victory, when, somehow, he was able to stitch together bits of stretched truth obtained during interrogations, creating a lie that suited his needs. He claimed that a prayer offered by some of the monks for the conversion of China was actually a pro-Nationalist prayer for the eradication of Communism. He named Father Maurus Bougon as the instigator, and, immediately, he launched a mandate of judgment against the monk, who had transferred to the parish of Peimong, south of Peking in 1946, after he had been accused of plotting the assassination of a Red general.

But at the same time, Li suffered a huge defeat. Because of the international uproar over the religious persecution committed by the Communists, officials in Kalgan refused his request to execute the monks.

Li had to do something. In Teng Chia Yu, food was getting scarce. Communist soldiers, who stole their food from the locals, decided it was time to move on to the next village. On October 10, the Reds forced everyone to march to Mu Chia Chuang, a village a little more than 6 miles to the north. But still, Li had too many mouths to feed. He had to do something to get the prisoners off his hands.

With winter setting in and supplies slim, Li decided to thin his herd of prisoners. He started by sending small groups of lay brothers, choir brethren and students back to the homes of their relatives. But before he released them, their “confessions” that they had made during their interrogations were read back to them, and they were ordered to sign a document, a statement of guilt that they would repent of their crimes and never enter another abbey.

And like always, threats followed.

“You are not so much to blame as the old fathers. They have deceived you. They have taught you to think incorrectly. And that is the whole trouble with you people. You do not think straight. But now, perhaps, you have learned some sense,” they were told. “Do not make the mistake of entering another monastery or seminary, and don’t get yourselves made into priests. We will soon have the whole of north China under our control. We have your photos and your fingerprints, and if we come to some city and find that you are in another monastery or that you have made yourselves priests, we won’t be so gentle with you next time. We will kill you.”

On Monday, October 13, the first group, soon to be followed by others, was freed. They headed for Peking, where they hoped to find refuge in the Trappist provisional house or with the Marist Brothers 10 miles outside the city wall. Given torture, deprivation and sub-nutrition, many could scarcely walk.

For a couple of those who remained behind, there was another plan.

On that same October 13, Father Antonius Fan (b. 1885), prior of the community, ate what was given to him for the evening meal. From the beginning of the Death March, despite the no-talking orders, despite the beatings, he recited vocal prayers without pause. His Ave Marias succeeded his Pater Nosters. His hands had been locked behind his back, with the cuffs squeezed so tightly closed around his wrists that his hands and arms swelled until gangrene set in and attacked his flesh, baring the bones in his forearms. Despite the pain, despite the cuffs, despite the leg irons, during the march to Mu Chia Chwang three days earlier he had helped carry weaker monks to the new location.

But that night of October 13, almost immediately after he ate, he complained of a violent thirst. Fever and delirium soon followed.

In a few hours, he was dead.

He was not the only one. Five days later, on October 18, Father Augustinus Faure (b. 1873), originally with the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris, a master of the novices and much loved by others in the Community, also ate what was given to him. Delirium, fever, thirst soon followed. He begged for a drink of water.

One of the guards mocked, “All your life you have served God, and now He is not able to give you a drop of water to drink.”

Father Augustinus sighed his final, dying words, “I thirst.”

Deaths continued.

On November 1, 1947, All Saints Day, Brother Malachias Chao (b. 1872), from the Jesuit mission Sien Hsien, and Brother Amadeus Liu (b. 1899) died slow agonizing deaths, in the darkness of their cells.

But as November saw the departure of some, it also brought the arrival of Father Maurus Bougon. He had heard about the warrant issued for his arrest issued in September, and he had thought about escape, but then he thought about the sufferings of his confreres, and he decided not to run. At his church, he was surrounded and taken into custody by Communist soldiers, in the beginning of November, and for the next few weeks, he was kept under strict guard as they made their way – on foot.

Soldiers and their prisoner arrived at Mu Chia Chwang on November 23, the same day Li transferred to Shih Kia Chuang, very near the Trappist abbey Our Lady of Joy, which was the daughterhouse of Our Lady of Consolation. He was on his way to a new mission, but the chain-smoking Party goon couldn’t help himself. He wanted to get in one last dig, reminding the monks that he had given them ample opportunity to leave the Church and join forces with the Communist Party.

“Even if you had apostatized, it would have availed you nothing,” he scoffed.

And to his underlings, he ordered that they execute a few of the prisoners, publicly, to save face, to save their reputations.

Father Maurus was immediately placed into solitary confinement and because he saw no other monks, he thought he was all alone.

Interrogations, accompanied with torture, soon began, and always began the same way:

“Do you know why you are here?”

“I was told that you had questions to ask me, and I have come to listen to you,” Father Maurus answered.

“You have already been arrested. You have not said a hundredth of the truth. You need to say the rest.”

Already accustomed to Marxist “confessions,” Father Maurus accused himself of small “crimes,” such as being an imperialist and being anti-Communist, but denied any allegations of espionage for the Nationalists. But, the new judge was not happy with the monk’s answers. He wanted acknowledgement of activities against the Communists, which would be enough evidence to warrant an execution.

Deathly afraid that his interrogators would lead him to say things that could be harmful to others, Father Maurus looked for an opportunity to flee.

In the beginning of December, soldiers and prisoners transferred to Huang Hua Kou, and seizing the opportunity, on December 3, Father Maurus attempted an escape.

A boy, who saw him leave his hut and hobble toward the woods, yelled, “The foreigner is running away!”

Father Maurus was immediately caught. As a punishment, the Reds cuffed his arms behind his back and suspended him from a rafter for 18 hours, straight. When he was finally cut down, he was thrown into a small, cold hut for 20 days, with his arms still cuffed, making it impossible to cover himself. As a result, his feet froze until they turned black. As soon as he learned his confreres were at the same compound, he promised his captors that he would never attempt another escape.

In Huang Hua Kou, Father Aelredus Drost, after all the beatings during interrogations, lost his ability to move. During the marches, he had developed colic and grew so weak that his pace slacked behind the others, which infuriated the Communists who clubbed him and hit him with rocks. His legs swelled until the skin split, opening sores that developed into ulcers, which, going uncared for, grew deeper until the white of his bones showed through. Afflicted with dysentery, he needed to go out often, but rarely given permission, he frequently soiled his trousers – his only pair – and would wash them in the bitter cold then put them back on – wet.

Of all the monks, he had been the one who always knew if it were a Sunday or a feast day, and each day he recited his breviary by heart.

But finally unable to do anything for himself, his brethren tried to aid him, as he slept restlessly, muttering in Dutch, his native language. At the abbey, he had been master of novices, and because of his serene, patient and sweet character, he was much loved and tenderly nursed in captivity.

“Leave him alone!” shouted one of the guards. “Don’t help that foreign dog!”

On December 5, Father Aelredus Drost (b. 1912) died. He had been the last European survivor of the Death March. Far from his family, he had been one of seven boys. Four became priests – two Trappists.

Two days later, on December 7, Father Odilius Chang (b. 1897), from the Manchurian diocese of Kirin, died in his dark cell, exhausted. He had embodied the spirit of St. Benedict: contemplation and piety. During the Death March and all the interrogations and tortures, he had never complained. At the abbey, he had been confessor and director of the oblates and postulants, and on all first Fridays, he always had directed a retreat and preached a conference. Pious, modest, reserved and humble, Father Odilius was considered an extraordinary preacher. With a burning zeal, his words, with a simple elegance, flowed like a fire from his heart into the hearts of his listeners, encouraging many vocations.

The next day, December 8, Father Bonaventura Chao (b. 1902) died. Like Father Antonius Fan, the wounds caused by the handcuffs got infected and putrefied, exposing the bones in his forearms. He was born in Hopei province, the vicariate of Peking, near the abbey. Intelligent and pious, he had taught Latin in the abbey. He was very musical and was the official cantor of the monastic choir that he led to angelic heights.

The three men, Father Aelredus, Father Odilius and Father Bonaventura, were buried together – their bodies to be forever entwined – in a shallow grave, a trench that the Communist soldiers had used as a latrine.

On December 13, Father Michaelus Hsu (b. 1901) died. During captivity, he had suffered much more because of his being the abbey’s superior, causing him to be a target of the Reds. He was chained with irons on July 23, which he had to carry throughout his captivity. From the very beginning he had anticipated the tragic end, but he had accepted with entire submission the divine will. All the monks shared the profound belief of living under the vow of obedience, even until their last breath. When his death neared, Father Michaelus named Father Chrysostomus as superior, an honor respected by all.

As those still held struggled and died, five monks maliciously rumored to be released were actually transferred elsewhere and died alone, without their confreres:

Brother Gabrielus Tien (b. 1861), born near the abbey, died on November 2.

Brother Hugo Fan (b. 1881), an acolyte, died in a village police station in Che Chia Tai in December. He was never able to receive the Holy Orders of the priesthood because of his health.

Brother Ireneus Wang (b. 1884) died on December 5, at Wo Yang Tai, of blood poisoning caused by the festering wounds in his hands, which had been tied with wire. His specialty had been in viticulture – growing grapes, which he had taught himself. He also worked with peach trees. Both crops had helped add economically to the financially strapped abbey.

Father Simon Hsu (b. 1897) died of hunger and cold on December 19, near Yuhsien, after enduring forced labor. Born in the northern province of Chahar, Father Simon had been an excellent bookbinder, blessed with an artistic ability that resulted in much success in the binding of books of the abbey, especially the large choral books.

Brother Martinus Hsu (b. 1899) died of tuberculosis, aggravated by forced labor and harsh circumstances, on December 20, at Cha Tao Ho.

There was very little to celebrate that Christmas.

Finally, on January 5, 1948, Father Maurus Bougon was reunited with his confreres.

“How do you see the future of the Trappists?” Father Chrysostomus asked him.

“The future looks very black. I fear the worst,” Father Maurus answered.

Indeed, it was.

On January 18, 1948, Brother Basilius Keng (b. 1915) died. Made a sub-deacon only the year before, he was a native of the city of Haimen, north of the delta of the Blue River. Brother Basilius was a man without defects, with a gentle character. Always smiling, he was liked by all. No one ever had difficulties with him. Not a natural scholar, he excelled in piety.

Father Chrysostomus gave Brother Basilius absolution, and he was buried right away.

Then, on January 20, 1948, six monks were rounded up. They were Father Chrysostomus, Father Seraphinus, Brother Alexius, Brother Eligius, Brother Joannes Maria and Brother Damianus.

“You are going to be freed,” the soldiers told them.

Before leaving, they all embraced Father Maurus, asking for his blessing and his prayers.

Father Chrysostomus, who sensed the soldiers were not telling the truth, said a special good bye to everyone, telling them they would see one another again in Heaven. He asked for their prayers for the final battle he faced in life, and he gave a final, fraternal, affectionate hug to Father Maurus. Then, sensing the end, he turned to Father Benedictus-Josephus Labre Hou and named him superior. Both young men, the two had been ordained together in 1945.

The six monks were taken to Pan Pu Tsun, nearby to Yang Kia Ping.

They left behind Father Maurus Bougon, Father Benedictus-Josephus Labre, Brother Rochus Fan and Brother Adrianus Wang, who would all eventually be freed, if only for a short time.

They also left behind Father Theodorus Yuan (b. 1916), who would die from tuberculosis three months later, in April, alone, in a dark cell, a prisoner till death. Father Theodorus was not the first martyr in his family. The first had been butchered in the Boxer Rebellion. He had a photographic memory and could recite complete passages from a book after reading it once. He and Father Chrysostomus had been novices together, pulling boyish pranks, gathering the wheat together then pulling the cart rather than yoking the cows. The two were opposite in disposition.

The novice Theodorus would poke fun at the novice Chrysostomus for being too slow and too calm.

The novice Chrysostomus would respond, “Why be impatient or rush, when we have eternity in front of us?”

On January 20, Father Chrysostomus faced his eternity, as he and the others were taken to Pan Pu Tsun, just a short distance from Our Lady of Consolation. The Communists wanted to make certain that the monks were “liquidated” near the abbey, to use them as an example, as a warning to others. As Li had ordered, it was time to save face; it was time to save their reputation, execution style.

In the village, large character posters were displayed announcing a meeting of the People’s Court. The names of the monks had been written in red ink – a symbol of death.

Twice the men were hauled before the People’s Court. Before the multitude, the manacled, handcuffed were accused. They had to listen to the wild, brutal screams of the accusations against the abbey and against themselves. They denied the guilt. They refused to surrender.

At the second trial, the death order was delivered, and they were to be executed immediately.

They had lived together; they would die together, as they stood together.

Brother Alexius Liu (b. 1897), from Paoting, Hopei province, was esteemed and respected by all. What he had lacked in height, since he was small in stature, he had made up for in his great virtues.

Brother Joannes Maria Miao (b. 1919) was from the vicariate of Chengting, south of Peking, in Hopei province.

Brother Eligius Hsu (b. 1918), originally from the chi-chi city of Shanghai, was the nephew of Father Michaelus Hsu, the superior. He was obedient, pious, and relished spiritual poverty, meaning he had no attachments to worldly things. Even though he came from a very wealthy family, he preferred to dress in old clothing covered with patches. Reserved and timid, as an oblate, he was permitted to talk, but he rarely did, preferring to keep to himself. A very rare character, his virtues were obedience, piety, poverty.

Brother Damianus Hwang (b. 1893) was born north of the Great Wall, in Jehol province (now Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Hebei and Liaoning provinces), in the district of Chao Yang Hsien, with the missionaries of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Scheut. His specialty was the catechesis. How he loved to teach doctrine. A very passionate man, burning with a passion for the Church, even bubbling on occasion, yet some of the reserved or melancholy residents criticized him harshly. He was a second-generation martyr, following his father whose blood was spilled when he was hacked to death with a scimitar and knives by the Boxers in 1900.

Father Seraphinus Hsih (b. 1909) was born in the Paoting diocese, in Hopei province. He had been expected to be the first Chinese abbot. His paternal uncle was Father Vicentius Hsih, superior of the Trappists in Gni Pa To. Father Seraphinus had served as vice-principal of the novices, then was named cellarer of the abbey. His kind and open demeanor earned him many friendships among the peasants, who considered him a great man.

Father Chrysostomus Chang had been born in Peking on January 16, 1917 to an old Catholic family, and he had just turned 31 a few days before his execution was ordered. A young monk, cultured and strong, he concluded his days, and all the months of patience, suffering, strength in the dungeons with a characteristic, peculiar to his temperament. A paternal uncle, Father Gerardus Chang had died in November 1941 in Yang Kia Ping after a long cloistered life. During the Death March and its inflicted tortures, it was evident that Father Chrysostomus had a supernatural strength. He had been one of those beaten more than the others and had worn irons around his limbs since July. He had endured the torture of suspension, hanging from the ceiling. He had been locked up in a narrow pigsty. And during all the torments, he showed a miraculous bravery. Though the other religious also endured in silence with admirable endurance, none did so as Father Chrysostomus. He was gifted intellectually. As a child, he had been irritable and quarrelsome, but triumphed over his temperament and became generous and kind-hearted.

Father Chrysostomus Chang plumbed the depths of his human will for a supernatural strength. With only a few minutes remaining of his life in the material world, he lifted his thoughts to the spiritual. Through screams from the mob, he addressed his confreres at his side one last time, to prepare them not for death, but for life, everlasting life.

“We’re going to die for God. Let us lift our hearts one more time, in offering our total beings,” he said.

Helpless, the six Trappist monks stood handcuffed and chained on a makeshift platform, targets of a frenzied hatred that surged toward them. The blood-encrusted, lice-infested men, wearing rags caked in their own filth, had nowhere to run, no one to help them. After six months of mind-bending interrogations and body-rending torture, it was over. It was all over.

The verdict had just been read by a Chinese Communist officer: Death. To be carried out immediately.

Hundreds of crazed peasants, with fists raised, with contorted faces, with spit-covered lips, screamed rehearsed slogans of approval for the approaching slaughter. Executioners – reliable Party henchmen – rushed to ready their rifles to exterminate the Roman Catholic monks, believers in the superstitious cult, lovers of the God on the Cross imported from the Imperialist West.

And so it happened on January 28, 1948, in the dead of winter in Pan Pu Tsun, an unmapped village, a frigid heathen hell in the Mongolian mountains, somewhere in the frost-covered north of the Republic of China.

Just over the ridge from the pandemonium staged by the soulless Chinese Communists – believers in the materialistic cult, lovers of the god of death and destruction – lay the charred ruins of Our Lady of Consolation, the once-majestic abbey the monks had called home.

Jostled in the madness, the monks fell to their knees. With their swollen hands tied and chained behind their backs, they couldn’t even cross themselves – In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost – a final time.

The death squad – Communist soldiers at the ready – loaded their rifles with fresh rounds of ammo.

Shots rang out. One, then the next, followed by the next, the monks collapsed upon the blood-splashed, frozen ground. Their lifeless bodies, dragged to a nearby sewage ditch and dumped into a heap, one on top of the other. Alerted by the shots, wild dogs, roaming the village’s dirt roads, scavenging for scraps, hurried over to the bodies to investigate. Sniffing, they lapped up the warm blood, steaming in the icy air.

It was all over. Our Lady of Consolation was no more.

MARTYROLOGY
Father Guglielmus Cambourieu (b. 1874)
Father Chrysostomus Chang (b. 1917)
Father Odilius Chang (b. 1897)
Father Bonaventura Chao (b. 1902)
Brother Malachias Chao (b. 1872)
Brother Bartholomeus Chin (b. 1893)
Father Aelredus Drost (b. 1912)
Father Antonius Fan (b. 1885)
Brother Hugo Fan (b. 1881)
Father Augustinus Faure (b. 1873)
Brother Bruno Fu (b. 1868)
Father Alphonsus L'Heureux (b. 1894)
Father Seraphinus Hsih (b. 1909)
Brother Eligius Hsu (b. 1918)
Brother Martinus Hsu (b. 1899)
Father Michaelus Hsu (b. 1901)
Father Simon Hsu (b. 1897)
Brother Damianus Hwang (b. 1893)
Brother Ludovicus Gonzaga Jen (b. 1872)
Brother Clemens Kao (b. 1899)
Brother Basilius Keng (b. 1915)
Brother Hieronymus Li (b. 1873)
Brother Marcus Li (b. 1885)
Brother Alexius Liu (b. 1897)
Brother Amadeus Liu (b. 1899)
Brother Philippus Liu (b. 1877)
Brother Conradus Ma (b. 1872)
Father Stephanus Maury (b. 1886)
Brother Joannes Maria Miao (b. 1919)
Brother Gabrielus Tien (b. 1861)
Brother Ireneus Wang (b. 1884)
Father Emilius Ying (b. 1886)
Father Theodorus Yuan (b. 1916)

POSTSCRIPT I: This tale – perhaps, one of the most well-known, unknown stories of martyrdom in Communist China – is a tale told from the grave, a reconstruction from written accounts by witnesses, survivors and hearsay. At times, information from one source conflicted with information from one or more sources; at such times, a choice was made, based on logical determination. Facts were pulled from the following consulted works:

“The History of Our Lady of Consolation,” by Father Stanislaus Jen, Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OSCO)

“The History of Our Lady of Joy,” by Father Stanislaus Jen, OCSO

“Les Martyrs de N. D. de Consolation et de N. D. de Liesse: Témoins Cisterciens de Notre Temps,” by Irénée Henriot and Joseph Dong

“Los Monjes Blancos,” by Father Eusebio Arnaiz Alvarez, Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (CSsR)

“Monaci nella Tormenta: La Passio dei monaci trappisti di Yan-Kia-Ping e di Liesse testimony della fede nella Cina di Mao-Tze-Tung,” by Father Paolino Beltrame Quattrocchi, OCSO

“Regulations of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance,” published by the General Chapter of 1926

“Stars in the Sky,” by Father Patrick J. Scanlan, OCSO

“Trappists, the Reds and You,” by Father M. Raymond Flanagan, OCSO

POSTSCRIPT II: For several years, I periodically attempted to make contact, via e-mails and telephone calls, with the Trappists (in Asia, Europe and the United States), as I was very interested in writing the story of the 33 martyrs. I had no success until the spring of 2010, when I luckily reached 84-year-old Father Bernard Johnson (former abbot of the Abbey of New Clairvaux), who just happened to be working the switchboard that day. I want to personally thank Father Bernard for all his help, without which, this story would have not been possible.

ENDNOTE: All Chinese names have been written in a manner to avoid confusion and to remain consistent with the English standard of writing proper names: given name first, family name last. In Chinese, names are traditionally written with family name first, given name last.

Theresa Marie Moreau can be reached at TMMoreau@yahoo.com.


TOPICS: Catholic; History; Religion & Culture; Religion & Politics
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 11/30/2010 7:11:02 AM PST by marshmallow
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To: marshmallow

I’ll come back and read all of it. I have a blurry screen right now and my words are so insufficient.

ALL God’s children, including these Chinese martyrs, are precious in God’s eyes.


2 posted on 11/30/2010 7:28:50 AM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: marshmallow

Wow! What a great christian witness! I read most not all. Very profound true christians( biblical like martyrs). Praise Jesus for their witness!


3 posted on 11/30/2010 10:40:03 AM PST by johngrace (God so loved the world so he gave his only son! Praise Jesus and Hail Mary!)
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