Heroes of the cloth: Marveling at the stuff our priests are made of

Hector Rondon | AP Photo

Catholic priests are human and fallible, like everyone. But sometimes they’re outright heroes.

Public Domain

Romero reminds me of Cardinal Ignatius Kung Pin Mei, a prisoner of the Chinese government, who told them, “I am a Roman Catholic Bishop. If I denounce the Holy Father, not only would I not be a Bishop, I would not even be a Catholic. You can cut off my head, but you can never take away my duties.” After his arrest, Kung was taken to a Shanghai sports stadium where he was expected to confess his “crimes.” Instead, with his hands tied behind his back, he spoke strongly into the mic, saying, “Long live Christ the King! Long live the Pope!”

The crowd repeated his words, adding, “Long live Bishop Kung!” He spent 30 years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement.

© Phanxicô Xaviê Nguyễn Văn Thuận
Mgr François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân

Kung’s story brings to mind the Archbishop of Saigon, Francis Xavier Nguyn Van Thuan, imprisoned for 13 years, celebrating Mass in his solitary cell with drops of wine, crumbs of bread, and a wire crucifix he had made himself.

Kung was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, the priest who lived under the jackboots of both Nazism and Communism and who understood that the answer to flawed, imperfect capitalism or unjust societies was not the crushing of human liberty — the pope who inspired the oppressed people of Poland to demand, over and over, “We want God!”

Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F059404-0019 / Schaack, Lothar / CC-BY-SA

I could go on naming heroic priests throughout the ages — priests who were heroes because they persevered in wartime, or worked against oppression, or risked life and health in order to bring Christ to sick. Lots of heroic priests have come down through the years, and we don’t always know their names, because they were simply quiet, holy priests, doing their duty.

Where do we get such men? Their parents raise them, and form them in the faith, but as Archbishop Timothy Dolan tells us, their priesthoods, their willingness to put themselves out there and at risk for the gospel, and for ministry, is “pure gift from God…”

Amen. Give us many more such gifts, Lord, we need them. Your people need them.

We all hope to sleep in the Eternal Vision of your Glory, looking like this monk, and this nun.

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