02/18/2024, 15.34
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Faustino Tissot and his legacy for the Church in China today

A book published in Italy traces the story of the missionary bishop of Zhengzhou, the immediate predecessor of one of three recently appointed bishops in the People's Republic of China. Paul VI praised him for his extraordinary example of courage and fidelity to the Gospel in communist imprisonment and for the love he always kept alive for the flock that had been entrusted to him, even in exile.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Recent episcopal appointments in China have put the spotlight on the Diocese of Zhengzhou (Henan province); with the ordination of Mgr Wang Yuesheng, it now has a bishop after more than seventy years.

Bishop Wang’s predecessor was Mgr Faustino Tissot (1901-1991), a Xaverian missionary from Trentino (Italy), who was imprisoned and then forced into exile by communist authorities in 1953, a fate visited upon all foreign missionaries in China in those years.

Bishop Tissot’s heroic testimony and his never-ending love for China, even in the decades after the tragic epilogue of his presence, is the subject of a recently published book.

Titled Contentissimo di essere in Cina (Very happy to be in China), the tome was written by his confrere, Fr Gabriele Ferrari, and published by Vita Trentina, the diocesan weekly of Trento (Italy).

In an easy-to-read biography, the author traces the story of the missionary, originally from the Primiero Valley (Trentino), and his extraordinary testimony, which is also a precious legacy for the Church in China today.

Pope Pius XII appointed Fr Tissot bishop of Zhengzhou on 10 May 1946. For the Trentino missionary, who was in Italy at the time standing in for the Xaverian superior general, it was a return to the land that had been his first missionary destination, where he had carried out his apostolate from 1926 to 1933, before being called back to Italy by his institute to serve as master of novices.

Bishop Tissot returned to China at a very troubled time. Two years after the death of his predecessor, the first bishop, also a Xaverian, Mgr Luigi Calza, this missionary outpost was coping with the wounds left behind by the Sino-Japanese war, the local chapter of the Second World War.

Fr Faustino rolled up his sleeves to uplift his community. But he had just 20 months to do so in complete freedom; on 28 October 1948, communist revolutionaries occupied the city.

The "Reds", as the missionaries called them, moved into bishop's house in Zhengzhou on day one, taking over the ground floor, forcing Bishop Tissot and other missionaries and priests onto the second floor.

“From four in the morning to ten in the evening, [I was] always in my room (because those are orders)," the bishop told his brother in one of the few letters he managed to send.

“The room is 5×4 metres, a bed, a desk, a dresser, and a wardrobe, in which there is the altar and the Blessed Sacrament well hidden. So, [I am] always in the company of Jesus who is all my comfort, and so I pray often, right? I remember all of you, each one, and I send you my blessing every day.

"Many accusations have been made against me, the most bizarre and false, of course," he added. “But, so far, they haven't been able to get me to leave. Don't worry about me; never have I touched with my own hands in recent years the gentleness of Divine Providence, which thinks not only of souls, but also of material things. Pray a lot for me, that I may bear my crosses not only with patience, but also with joy.”

On 30 July 1953, local revolutionaries seized on a trivial matter to move from surveillance to actual arrest; during a summer storm, water entered through the uneven windows of the upper floor and, after flooding it, it flowed onto the ground floor occupied by the communists.

The latter ranted and raved against the missionaries, accusing them of trying to wreck the house that they had occupied and that had been declared the property of the people.

During questioning, the communist revolutionaries tried above all to pressure the bishop to resign and let them pick a successor. At this moment, Bishop Tissot’s resistance was heroic.

“Remember that there are two paths," the prelate said, referring to the threats he had received, "either you appoint that one as vicar or we will send you to forced labour; we'll take off your robe, we'll cut off your beard, we'll dress you in a shirt with a pair of shorts, and you'll be forced to carry 2,000 bricks a day. For now, think it over in the prison cell.”

Despite the threats, Tissot stood firm: “Do whatever, but I can't betray my conscience. If my health won't allow me to carry 2,000 bricks a day, I'll carry 500."

"During the hearings, the judges insisted that I ask to leave," he said. “But I said, 'No, if the government doesn't send me away, I'll stay.' On 12 November, in the evening, I was called to court for what turned out to be the last questioning or a final attack: 'We heard that you have hidden gold, you must hand it over to the government'.

“This information was false. They then tried with a threat: 'If you don't tell us where you keep the money, you won't leave China.' But here I responded quickly: ‘You're doing me a favour.’" That same night they called him again and ordered him to leave at once.

"Thus," Father Ferrari notes, "with an apparent defeat, which in reality was the glorious conclusion of his Chinese episcopate, Bishop Tissot was expelled from that land that he loved and would continue to love until the end of his life, the land that, ultimately, was the homeland of the flock solemnly entrusted to him in 1946.

"He was thrown out at night, like a dog, robbed of everything. They gave him neither his garments, nor the pectoral cross, or the ring. He arrived at the Luo Wu Bridge on the border with Hong Kong in a poor Chinese robe and a pair of slippers. It was 1 November 1953.”

However, that did not end his episcopal ministry, which, even in forced exile in Italy he continued to carry out in the service of the mission, both at Propaganda Fidae and the Xaverian institute.

But the most beautiful summary of Bishop Tissot’s life came later, in 1971, in a message Pope Paul VI wrote to him for the 25th anniversary of his episcopate and which the book reports.

The pontiff noted the special quality of "an anniversary that, while normally celebrated in joy, you spend instead with the confreres of your religious family, mixing tears with pure joy of the heart."

In fact, "in the withdrawn life you now lead in Rome, your memory will go back to your Diocese of Zhengzhou, where you were the cautious, industrious, courageous pastor, an example to all. In your memory you will remember, like on a screen, all that you were given to imagine, realise, suffer in the distant Chinese nation to disseminate and glorify the Gospel."

"In remembering these things with you, one by one,” Paul VI noted, "we deem you to be entirely worthy of our esteem and that of the whole Church, which in your person honours the genuine virtue of those who, for the faith, ‘endured mockery, scourging, even chains of imprisonment' (cf. Hebrews 11:36) and who, although they were innocent, experienced outrage and violence.

“Yet, no shadow of bitterness prevents you from loving with intense and everlasting love the people from whom you have been separated, and from maintaining peace and sanctification with everyone, without which no one will see the Lord (ibid., 12:14)".


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