Letter to Friends and Benefactors
August 1, 2002
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
Say what one will about monster machines, there is no denying that today's gigantic aeroplanes make possible, as I can remember Archbishop Lefebvre once remarking, long and accurate apostolic journeys. Between the end of June and mid July they enabled me for the third time to travel around the world for the Society of St. Pius X.
First stop was for the priestly ordinations at the end of the school year in the Society's main seminary in Ecône, Switzerland, where 15 new priests were ordained, mostly French, for postings all over the world. Since the first major ordination of priests by Archbishop Lefebvre for the Society in June of 1976, this made the 27th ordination in 27 years in the tent erected each year in the meadow beneath the seminary. For a canvas cathedral, that is a remarkable stability and source of strength for the Faith!
The event being now annual routine, the crowd attending the ordinations in Ecône was less than double the crowd attending ordinations in Winona five days beforehand, but in Ecône no fewer than 159 priests helped Bishop Tissier to lay hands on the ordinands. Of the many priestly friends I can remember that used to come from outside the Society to lay on hands in the early days, few are still living. To replace them, each year now more and more of the Society's own priests come to the ordinations for this purpose, and it is interesting to watch these men swiftly growing older, or maturing, under the steady pressure of the priesthood. With each year that passes, the Society's priests become less and less a mere collection of youngsters, as one can have thought of them a little while back. They are becoming with God's grace a formidable phalanx in defence of the Faith. Pray we never betray!
Second stop was Holland, to provide a Sunday Mass and two Confirmations in the Society's one and only floating chapel, which is in The Hague. Property is so expensive in this city of Europe's International Court that years ago Fr. De Merode (now based in St. Louis, serving Cincinnati) purchased a retired barge moored by the side of one of Holland's multiple canals. Here he established an attractive and perfectly workable chapel. It may be faintly disconcerting for the preacher to watch the chandeliers gently swinging over the congregation's heads during Mass, but after all Our Lord Himself used a boat for a pulpit (Lk. V, 3)!
Holland is very liberal, and it is a difficult country for Catholic Tradition today (see Verbum # 77). But the Society priest who looks after The Hague, Fr. Robert Schmitt from neighbouring Germany, is a happy young man nevertheless. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of his priesthood, amongst other things we visited an exhibition in Amsterdam's renowned Rijksmuseum of a 17th century Dutch artist from Holland's golden age, Aelbert Cuyp. What a contrast between his Holland of sailing ships in golden sunsets, and today's Holland of six lane freeways! Yet even from the freeway one recognizes by moments Cuyp's landscape, and, truth to tell, even Cuyp could idealize with his paint brush what he saw with his eyes. Is the camera then more truthful than the artist? Not necessarily...
Another aerial monster lifted me for the third stop to Malaysia, former British Malaya, where I had never been before, and where I wanted to visit in particular a historic town of lesser importance today, but made famous amongst Catholics for having been made by St. Francis Xavier the base of his Far Eastern missionary journeys in the mid 1500's, Malacca. Today's important city of Malaysia where the aerial monsters land is Kuala Lumpur, modernized capital of one of those nations known as the "Asian tigers" for their recent material prosperity. One may wonder for how much longer the United States' huge imports from Asia will continue to found this prosperity, but in the meantime Kuala Lumpur boasts a pair of towers taller than the Twin Towers that were dynamited in New York.
Malaysia is not a Catholic country, and never has been, yet still Catholic Tradition has a footing there. The co-ordinator and his family are English speakers of Chinese extraction. With Fr. Daniel Couture, Asian District Superior from French Canada, they showed me the Society's handsome chapel hewn out of a commercial building, with delightful stained glass windows of Asian colouring painted by the co-ordinator. Some 30 souls attend Mass celebrated twice a month by a Society priest coming up by bus from Singapore. A rest, three Confirmations, and then the visit to Malacca, two hours south by car on a splendid freeway.
Malacca, strategically located on a Strait shielded by the Island of Sumatra opposite, mid-way between the East (India) and the Far East (China and Japan), achieved prominence as a major center of shipping and commerce well before it was conquered in the early 16'" century by the Portuguese to act as a major base for their own running of the lucrative spice trade. To establish their rule of Malacca, the Portuguese (1511 to 1641) built a stone fortress around the hill dominating the port, which the Dutch (1641 1795) strengthened, and the British (1795 1957) destroyed, except for one gateway, now a delight of tourists. How empires come and go! Presently, the "Asian tigers" are part of the American Empire's comings and Boeings, but these two will one day be gone with the wind ....
St. Francis Xavier's five stays in Malacca belong to the time of the Portuguese. Readers of his life will remember how he attempted to convert those he found there, so that their bad example would cease to alienate from the Faith so many "natives", a word politically incorrect but saying what it needs to say. One ponders on the ways of Providence: why did God send a Xavier to the pagan East and Far East in the 16th century, and not before? And why is Asia not now converted? Men are to blame. Today, the museums in Malacca reflect a scorn for the Europeans who once brought the Catholic Faith. Alas, if in the streets of Malacca one sees someone sloppily dressed and lacking all dignity, sure enough, it will be a Westerner. If I was today an Easterner, I would despise these moneyed tramps and their past colonialism and their supposed Faith. How we need an army of Xaviers, if souls are to be saved!
Little trace remains of Xavier in today's Malacca. There is a statue of him outside the walls of St. Paul's Church still standing atop the fortified hill, where Xavier would stay on his visits, and there is the vault beneath ground within the church where his body rested for a few month's between Shangchuan Island off China, where Xavier died his mysteriously cold and lonely death in 1552, and Goa, the then Portuguese enclave in India where it rests to this day. But Xavier would never have cared for physical monuments. His true monument is the implanting of the Faith all over the East and Far East, and hundreds of thousands of souls safely garnered for Heaven then and since. And his dazzling example! St. Francis Xavier, pray that Westerners come to their Catholic senses! Pray that your Company of Jesus become once more Jesuit conquerors of the world for Heaven and God!
Fourth stop was Australia, actually the main destination of the entire journey, for the purpose of ordaining at home amongst his own large family Winona's Australian seminarian for the last three years, Rev. Mr. Brendan now Father Brendan Arthur. For pictures from his ordination and first Mass in Melbourne, see the enclosed "Verbum".
In Melbourne the question of the camera came up again when Fr. Kevin Robinson (known to many of you) took two of us to see a film which he highly recommended on the ministry and death among Hawaii's lepers in the mid 19th century of Fr. Damien. Indeed the film was well done as films go, especially on a Catholic subject, but still it left one with a dissatisfaction. Why? Surely because just as the cinema has such power to make the unreal seem real, so it is bound to make the real seem unreal, including Fr. Damien. Surely it would be truer to say that the camera always lies than that it never lies. But that is another story.
Last stop on this on-Boeing world tour was Japan, a small island or collection of islands, but a world giant, economically speaking, not by its physical resources but by the ancient natural virtues of its people. These virtues are today being eroded, as everywhere, by the modern up-rooting from a natural way of life, yet the Japanese people remain those that Xavier came to love in his brief but decisive missionary visit in the 1540's. Here as in other Asian countries, the Society has a foothold significant not by numbers but by Truth.
My host was Fr. Thomas Onoda, himself Japanese, another young Society priest with a lonely ministry when he visits his homeland each month, but with a happy heart. Into a tiny tenth floor apartment serving as Society Chapel in down town Osaka, Japan's second city after Tokyo, two dozen souls crowded for nine of them to receive Confirmation, and in Tokyo itself a similar number attended Sunday Mass in surroundings more spacious but still without chairs. These are replaced by prayer mats and one's own haunches!
Praise be to God for the gift and survival of the Catholic Faith in these distant lands! Honour and prayers for the isolated priests in their far flung ministry! May Our Lord send more workers into his harvest! They have a happy life if they are faithful.
Most sincerely yours in Our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Richard Williamson