Teresa Liu survived 20 years of confinement for her faith. Now she forgives her captors as she leads converts,
It’s almost as if Teresa Liu is making up for lost time.
Liu is an 86-year-old Catholic woman in Australia who has guided hundreds of ethnic Chinese into the faith, years after spending a significant part of her youth in a communist Chinese prison.
Liu had an evangelistic spirit from a young age. As a young woman, she joined the Catholic organization the Legion of Mary in her native Guangzhou (Canton), in southern China. The group, which operates worldwide, seeks to spread the Catholic faith. She had also been discerning a religious vocation with the Carmelite nuns.
Two events interrupted the life she had envisioned for herself. If she was uncertain whether God wanted her to be a consecrated religious, she seems to have found an answer when John Bosco Liu came into her life.
“He told her that he loved her,” according to a profile of her written for Catholic News Service.
But their plans to marry were interrupted as well, because of their membership in the Legion of Mary, considered an “anti-revolutionary” organization.
It was the late 1950s, and the communist rulers of the People’s Republic of China were exerting more and more control over religion. They set up an alternative to the Catholic Church in order to neutralize the influence and control over segments of the population by a foreign power—the Vatican. The Legion of Mary itself was seen as a “anti-revolutionary” organization, and Teresa and John Bosco’s membership earned them prison sentences. They also refused to join the state-established Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Teresa never had a trial, but ended up serving 20 years. John Bosco was behind bars for 22. The two lovebirds actually spent some of their time in the same prison in Guangzhou. But if they dared to speak or show signs of affection, it could lead to severe punishment. Teresa herself was kept in solitary confinement for several long periods—once for seven months.
She knew, however, that she was never alone. Christ was with her.
Though they could not attend any kind of religious service while in prison, of course, Teresa maintained her life of prayer in secret. Once she was able to lie down to sleep at night, she would pray the Rosary, for example.
“I felt very close to God at that time because in my heart I said, ‘Jesus, now I have nothing but you. Don’t let me leave you,'” she told CNS.
She finally was released in 1977, in the wake of China’s often-violent Cultural Revolution and a new opening to the West. She and John Bosco were married in 1979 and moved to Australia the following year.
But John lived only for 10 more years. He had a massive heart attack one day at Mass, just after receiving Communion.
Teresa carried on, catechizing new immigrants from her native land. Providing them one-on-one faith formation in their own language — Cantonese or Mandarin — she has guided hundreds into the Catholic Church, her pastor, Fr. Janusz Bieniek, pastor and a member of the Congregation of St. Michael the Archangel, told CNS.
“She is very supportive of all initiatives in the parish, especially the work of evangelization with people from China who are thinking of becoming Christian,” said Fr. Bieniek, himself an immigrant, from Poland. “She gathers them, talks to them, personally keeps contact with them and encourages them.”
Recently, Liu was invested as a dame in the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great in recognition of her “outstanding commitment to faith” demonstrated “through her Christian outreach to and conversion of many people in the Archdiocese of Sydney.” Investiture in the order is the highest honor the Church bestows on lay people and is given in recognition of extraordinary service to the Church, CNS explained.
“She is a very credible witness to the faith and at the same time very quiet and unassuming,” he said. “People know about her past, her experiences and sufferings, but she doesn’t boast about this. She … never has any kind of talk about revenge or hatred. She has no anger, so that makes a very big impression on people.”
Liu said she has forgiven her captors, saying they were just doing their job. “They also are victims of the communist system,” she said.
She urged prayers for China, saying the situation for the faithful now is in some ways worse than it was for the Catholics of the 1950s. “They want to destroy every religion,” she said.