Thursday, October 28, 2010

New book recalls Dublin missionary's imprisonment in China

A new book recounts the life and work of a prominent Dublin-born Columban missionary who ended up in solitary confinement in a Chinese jail for his efforts to evangelise the country.

From Navan to China has been compiled from the notes, letters and diaries of Fr Aedan William McGrath who was born in Dublin in 1906, ordained in 1929 and only died in 2000.

Fr McGrath worked as a missionary with the Legion of Mary in China through almost three decades from the 1930s until he was expelled by the communist regime in 1954.  

After his ordination, he volunteered to join the Columban mission and travelled the then arduous journey with several other Irish priests and nuns and was put in charge of a remote outpost at Hangyang in Hupey province.

The district had no Catholic Church and Fr McGrath walked, cycled and rode on horseback to outlying mission stations, sometimes sleeping on the way in straw huts.  The mission strove to bring Catholicism to a China that was torn by civil war and the World War 2 invasion by the Japanese.

In 1947, Fr McGrath was assigned to spread the Legion of Mary throughout the whole of China and, with the support of the local archbishop and many priests and religious, its influence spread rapidly.

But the real difficulties for him, the Legion and the Columban mission generally arose after the victory of the Communist-led forces in 1949 and the Legion of Mary became a proscribed organisation.  

The authorities set up a government-controlled so-called Patriotic Church and Fr McGrath led a campaign to inform Catholics about its nature.

This led to a counter-campaign led by state-controlled newspapers and Legion of Mary members were forced to register with the police.  

Two years later, Fr McGrath was arrested by the authorities and served almost three years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, before his eventual expulsion and return to Ireland.

Upon his return, he was greeted at a reception in the National Stadium by Sean T. O'Kelly, then President of Ireland and other noted public dignitaries.  

From Navan to China: The Story of a Chinese Irishman by Aedan W. McGrath SSC is priced at €10.80.


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