Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Letters from China

These past weeks I have been reading letters in our archives written by the Sisters who went to China in 1930. I did this in preparation for a talk: In Their Own Words: Letters from China 1930-1948. The talk will be in the monastery dining room on Sunday, May 16, at 1:30 p.m. There will be a chance to tour the museum exhibit afterward.

I did not expect to find so many letters, nor did I anticipate how much they would touch me. I am very familiar with the story—how the six Sisters ministered in Peking and Kaifeng; how they lived through the Sino-Japanese and World War II; how they were forced out of China by Mao Zedong’s army and eventually settled in Formosa (Taiwan) and Japan. Reading their letters was like accompanying them on their journey.

I have written previous blogs (one, two and three) on the current exhibit in our monastery museum: “Mission to China and Taiwan 1930-2010.” In this blog I will share from letters written by Sister Francetta Vetter, superior of the group, between 1937 and 1947—during the Sino-Japanese War; at the end of World War II; after fleeing the communist army. There was no communication during World War II (1941-1945) when the Sisters were in internment camps.

April 22, 1937 (the Sisters caring for wounded Chinese soldiers on their way to hospitals):
It’s after ten p.m. … We have just had supper. [At 3:30] a load of wounded soldiers came through and before the train left another train load was brought in. Over 1300. …Terrible cases. Worse than ever.

September 27, 1937:
The sirens send creeps through us, especially when [they] sound the short and long which means close danger. During these times we say our prayers fervently…. I can assure you that the tense feeling is awful, and oh, how grateful we are when at last the "all’s safe" siren gives the signal.

August 23 1938:
Please, dear Mother, do not reproach yourself on not having called us home. We would have been the saddest sisters to leave here when it was most important for us to stay.

August 27, 1945 (after being freed from internment at the end of World War II):
Peace and greetings! My dears, concentration camp days are over and you cannot adequately understand…how our hearts swelled and our throats choked when we sang the Te Deum on hearing that Peace had come.

December 27, 1947 (as the communist army neared Kaifeng):
[The siege on Kaifeng] came without warning….Please pray for us as this is our darkest hour in China. God knows it was hard enough to come to China; then to be forced out by the Japanese and the horrors of that war. ... [T]his is just about all we … can stand. ... Don’t worry about us. God will see us through. We lean on Him.

By 1949, half of the missionaries settled in Taiwan, half in Japan. Sister Francetta was among those who helped establish a community of Benedictine Sisters in Japan.

Click here for more information and video tours of the exhibit.

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