Refugees from Red persecution are still crowding in from China
From a Special Correspondent
HONG KONG, whose normal population of 800,000 has been swollen by the vast influx of refugees from Communist China into one of two and a half million, has become a centre of christian charity.
From China into the small British colony flows a steady stream of political refugees, displaced members of the staffs of trading bodies who can no longefcarry on, and of course the refugees—and numerous expellees—from the religious persecution.
Hospitals, clinics and charitable bodies run by Catholie orders and societies are making an unprecedented effort to cope with vast new problems.
Almost a dozen new free clinics have been opened by various Catholic groups. European and Chinese Catholics work side by side in distributing gifts of food, clothes and bedding from a variety of welfare organisations to the needy.
No escape for them
But in China itself only 777 foreign missionaries remain, compared with 5,497 before the Communists finally seized power. And Chinese priests and laymen are increasingly carrying the burden of persecution. For most of them there is no escape to freedom.
Hong Kong's refugees, who include Bishops, priests and nuns—some 2,000 in all, many of whom have come straight from Chinese jails or have been thrown out at a moment's notice after a lifetime of selfless service—represent an entirely new problem for the little colony.
But the British authorities, the Hong Kong Government, Catholic charitable bodies and the various missionary organisations whose members are affected are carrying through between them a combined operation for smoothing the way to their rehabilitation.
Unlike other Western nationals— businessmen, doctors and technicians —who have also been forced out of China since the Reds seized power, the foreign missionaries are really "displaced persons" in Hong Kong.
For their roots are in the schools, churches, hospitals and hearts of the Chinese people they have left behind.
Because the missionaries' situation, is exceptional, psychologically as well as materially, the British authorities in the Crown Territory treated them with great consideration.
Holy Sec's thanks A Colonial Office spokesman told THE CATHOLIC HERAI.D: "WC don't know here in London what precise arrangements are made for foreign missionaries arriving in Hong Kong from China. What we do know is that there are provisions, and that they are maintained in a special reception centre for as long as they wish to stay.
"Material conditions at the centre must be reasonably good. We know that because quite recently the Vatican sent a message to the Hong Kong Government expressing the Pope's sincere gratitude for the generosity and care the Hong Kong authorities had shown towards the missionaries."
"Obviously," he added, "the missionaries don't come under the normal category of stranded or displaced persons. Their background and circumstances are not at all the same."
But not only foreign missionaries who are British subjects benefit from the Hong Kong Government's care. In fact the majority of the priests, prelates and religious who have crossed the narrow bridge on the frontier between China and Hong Kong were citizens o f. ot her countries.
I was told at the Foreign Office that "so far as is known," no particular concessions are made for British missionaries returning to Britain after reaching Hong Kong.
"They qualify, like all other British subjects stranded abroad without funds. to be conveyed home by the cheapest available route. Of course, Hong Kong is a colony, and there's no consul there. Displaced missionaries are therefore the responsibility of the local Government."
Further enquiries I made at foreign embassies and legations in London showed that, in general, the Governments of other European nations, 1-ranee, Italy, Switzerland, follow a similar line to the British.
Only the Belgian Government refuses to give any aid to missionaries. "They receive no official help," I was officially informed. "Only in very exceptional cases does the Government intervene, and this isn't yet regarded as an exceptional problem. Belgian missionaries expelled from China and wanting to return home must do so under their own steam."
Fr. J. M. Van Pelt, a Scheut missionary who left Shanghai for Hong Kong in 1949, some months after the Chinese Communists took over, confirmed this embassy statement from his own experience.
"None of our priests is helped by the Belgian authorities," he said.
"Before the Communists came to power, there were 270 Scheut fathers in China. Today there are only 35 left, and they, too, may be expelled at any time. I think that is roughly the proportion of losses suffered by all the foreign missionary societies.
"Upwards of 2.000 have been expelled altogether so far."
Fr. Van Pelt had only praise for the reception arrangements of the British authorities in Hong Kong, through which the other 234 Scheut Fathers forced to leave China also passed on their way to new mission fields in Japan, the Philippines, Guatemala, Chile and the Belgian Congo.
He also admitted that the cost of shipping back these uprooted missionaries to the society's headquarters in Belgium was very high indeed—"much more than we could afford to pay unaided."
"The Maynooth Mission has a priest stationed in Hong Kong, who meets our expelled missionaries and arranges for their needs during their stay in the Colony. So in their case the question of financial aid from any other source does not arise," a spokesman at St. Columban's, Navan—the Maynooth Mission to China—told me.
"I imagine the same is true of most expelled missionaries; either their order or society has a house in Hong Kong or has some priest to represent them there. The orders and societies which have foundations in Hong Kong, and the priests, sisters and lay helpers engaged in Catholic relief work have, of course, been most helpful and hospitable to all expelled missionaries, including ours.
"All our expelled missionaries pay tribute to the courtesy and kindness of the British authorities in Hong Kong, who have facilitated them in every way and made them feel most welcome in the Colony.
"The Church in Hong Kong has a well-organised relief programme for aiding refugees from Red China. If an expelled missionary were in need, I have no doubt he would be well cared for. The Hong Kong Government also has a social welfare organisation for dealing with the refugee problem."
Talking to Sister Anne Hughes. of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who recently completed the long journey back from China to England. T learnt that her journey, which was one of gieat comfort, was financed by the Lazarist Fathers— the congregation closely connected with the Sisters and usually known in this country as Vincentians.
Sister Hughes told me that the present financial situation for priests and sisters in Hong Kong is very satisfactory. Many refugees, notably the Bishops expelled front China, receive money from the American National Catholic Welfare Conference, the Hierarchy's administrative organisation which has a special department for the relief of refugees.
The Communist persecution of the Church in China began in earnest in December. 1950. Chinese, as well as foreign, priests are now feeling its effects, said Fides agency in an endof-the-year report.
"Twenty-four Chinese priests have died in prison." it said, "and 100 foreign and 200 Chinese priests have been thrown into unbelievably dirty and crowded jails. These are the figures that are known in Hong Kong. The actual figures are certainly higher.
They must remain
"This sad Christmas picture is relieved only by the evidence of great faith and constancy among Chinese Catholics.
"The Chinese laity who have suffered persecution are numerous. Many of those who have been executed, imprisoned or impoverished are not known abroad. Their fate is not even known to their own relatives in many cases. Their names are truly known to God alone.
"In the accounts of missionaries who have reached Hong Kong the following three points are usually made :
I. The Chinese Bi " shops, priests and laity who must remain in China face the worst. There is no Hong Kong gateway to freedom for them, "2. The faith is strong in China and provides a living demonstration of the divine quality of the Church.
"3. What has happened in china can happen anywhere.
—The survival of the Church in any land depends more on living. practical faith than on any other factor,".Eides added.