7. The Village Since the 1980s
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172 The return of a Cave Gully priest to his family in the mid 1980s is not a folktale that belongs to the whole village, but a story told by his family . He had been in prison for many years far from home in the mountains east of Shanxi and his release took place quite unexpectedly on a winter evening; the old man had nothing but a quilt and a few personal possessions, and he was very weak. The only person he could think of to ask for help was one of the prison guards who came from a village near Cold Springs Road. After toiling through the darkness and some difficulty explaining the situation to the guard’s wife, who had never met him, they welcomed him into their home. The next day the guard made a telephone call to the village office in Cave Gully, but the man who took the call went out to work in the fields without informing the family. When the family eventually got the news several of them went to fetch the old priest. They stayed with the guard, then took the train back to Taiyuan. At the station they saw a bus to Qingyuan, which happened to have a Catholic driver from Cold Springs Road. He did not recognize the frail old man, but when he was told who it was he set off immediately, not waiting for any other passengers or following the bus route, but driving straight to Cave Gully. The old man lived with his family for three years while he recovered his health, then moved back to Cold Springs Road to resume work as a priest. He had emerged from prison a stern, unsmiling man, not someone people found easy to get along with, but with an enviable reputation for never having bent. chapter 7 The Village Since the 1980s 9780520273115_PRINT.indd 172 9780520273115_PRINT.indd 172 27/04/13 3:46 PM 27/04/13 3:46 PM The Village Since the 1980s | 173 The bus driver in this story represents the warm welcome the priest’s family thought he should have had, but the reaction of the man in the village office reminds the listener that there was also denial, fear, resentment, and hostility from those who had been closer to the government. More difficult for the community were the priests who had broken under pressure: those who had denounced the religion, denied the existence of God, or betrayed others. Another Cave Gully priest was released several years earlier and his story, though perhaps even more tragic, is far harder for people to tell. The story begins with his childhood , when his family was confident the bishop had been right to choose him for the priesthood because he did not cry in the seminary even though he was only ten years old when he entered. Then he was imprisoned and tortured and under great pressure agreed to marry a nun. At the end of the Cultural Revolution she returned to her family and he went back to Cave Gully. As soon as he could, he wrote to Rome to get a dispensation to leave the priesthood. He was so happy on the day that it finally arrived that he had a stroke. For the last ten years of his life he was paralyzed, living in a little room his parents left for him, while the rest of the household said that the stroke was God protecting him. This is a strange story, for why should a paralyzing stroke be considered God’s protection? Other scraps of information hint at another story lying behind the one that is told. The old man was indeed confined with the other priests, but he had the good job of being their cook. After they were all released the nun returned to her family. The document that came from Rome was not a dispensation to leave the priesthood, but rather an annulment of the marriage, obtained by the nun’s brothers , who were also priests. He stayed in the cathedral for two years, before coming home because of ill health. There are also accusations that after his return his family did not treat him well. One can guess that he collaborated with the authorities during the Cultural Revolution and then wanted to continue to practice as a priest despite his marriage but was rejected by the people. Unlike the missionaries after the Boxer Uprising, the Catholics after the Cultural Revolution were not...