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July 31, 2005|
Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Maurice Tornay was born on August 31, 1910, the seventh in a family of eight children, in the hamlet of La Rosière, perched at an altitude of 1,200 meters on a steep mountainside in Valais, Switzerland. From his first year of school, his exceptional qualities revealed themselves, but so did his faults and his shortcomings. Kind, hard-working, and with a quick mind, he nevertheless showed himself to be domineering, obstinate, and sometimes even aggressive. After school, the Tornay children helped their parents in the cowshed, in the mountain pastures, and in the garden. Life was hard in the mountains. A deep love united all the family members. They experienced in the family circle the comforting truth described by Saint Augustine: «Where there is love, there is no labor, and if there is labor, it is loved.» When he was still young, Maurice did his utmost to correct his faults, and at least partially succeeded. Anna attributed this success to the Eucharist: «With his First Communion, Maurice became a good boy.» He had someone to look up toSaint Maurice, his patron, had paid dearly for his faithfulness to Christ. He was martyred with an entire legion of Roman soldiers in Agaune, not far from La Rosière. At the age of fifteen, Maurice entered the high school of Saint Maurice's Abbey, built on the martyr's tomb, where he would spend six years as a boarder. He was soon noticed for his application to his studies and for his piety, which was nevertheless not at all affected. In fact, he loved to laugh and to practice a high level of «eutrapely,» the art of sprinkling traces of humor and healthy gaiety into one's human relationships. In his free time, he managed to lead friends to the chapel for a short meditationhe would read them a few passages from Saint Francis de Sales, or a page from Story of a Soul by Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
Would we be mad enough to chase Him away?
These days, however, a widespread mentality denies or reduces the reality of mortal sin. People believe that particular acts, even those seriously contradicting God's law, do not separate man from God, as long as the individual has an overall intention (called «fundamental option») to orient his life towards God. In opposition to this mentality, Pope John Paul II wrote in the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, dated August 6, 1993: «Care will have to be taken not to reduce mortal sin to an act of 'fundamental option'as is commonly said todayagainst God, seen either as an explicit and formal rejection of God and neighbor or as an implicit and unconscious rejection of love. For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered. In fact, such a choice already includes contempt for the divine law, a rejection of God's love for humanity and the whole of creation: the person turns away from God and loses charity. Consequently, the fundamental orientation can be radically changed by particular acts» (no. 70). Such is the case, for example, with blasphemy, idolatry, irreligion, heresy, schism, perjury, abortion, contraception, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, masturbation...
«Something even greater...»
Less than two months after entering the novitiate, Maurice wrote to his family, «I have never been so free. I do what I want, I can do whatever I want, because the will of God is expressed to me at every moment, and because I want to do this will alone.» To his sister Anna, he wrote, «We must lose no time, shall we, Anna? We must hurryat our age, others were saints. Because if the stalk blooms for too long, the fruit cannot ripen before the cold and death arrive. And there are so many who cry out to us, so many sinners, so many pagans who call to us. We want to answer them, don't we? Our health, our flesh, it's for them, isn't it? I'm telling you again, we must hurry. The more I live, the more I am convinced that sacrifice, giving (of self) give meaning, these alone give meaning to these days we are living...» Maurice was obsessed with the idea that there are souls that are counting on us to be saved, and he was burning with desire to bring them the Gospel, to leave for faraway lands to win them to Christ. Some decades later, Pope John Paul II would remark: «The number of those who do not know Christ and do not belong to the Church is constantly on the increase. Indeed, since the end of the [Second Vatican] Council it has almost doubled. When we consider this immense portion of humanity which is loved by the Father and for whom He sent His Son, the urgency of the Church's mission is obvious» (Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, December 7, 1990, no. 3). «This missionary activity derives its reason from the will of God, who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, Himself a man, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:4-5), neither is there salvation in any other (Acts 4:12). Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church's preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door» (Second Vatican Council, Decree Ad Gentes, no. 7).
The value of one day's sufferings
On September 8, 1935, the young canon made his solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Msgr. Bourgeois then decided to strengthen the team of pioneers in Yunnan. Canon Tornay, recovered from his surgery, was to leave in the company of his confreres, Canons Lattion and Rouiller. Over the course of several months, all three trained to alleviate human suffering, taking courses with a doctor and a dentist. Before the date set for their departure, Maurice opened himself to his brother Louis: «I have clearly received the following intuition in my soulfor my ministry to be fruitful, I must work with all the ardor in my soul, for the purest love of God, without any desire to see my labors noticed. I want to exhaust myself in the service of God. I will never return.»
After about a month and a half of travel, the three canons arrived at the mission in Weixi (altitude 2,350 meters) in the Tibetan border country. Canon Tornay wrote, «And now, I've almost made a world tour. I've seen and I've felt that people are unhappy everywhere, that their real unhappiness consists in forgetting God, that apart from serving God, really, nothing matters, nothing, nothing, nothing.» Without delay, he set to studying againtheology, under the direction of Canon Lattion, and the Chinese language, with an old Protestant teacher who was sympathetic to Catholicism. Anxious to evangelize the pagans in their language and respecting their culture, he made rapid progress in Chinese. But as full as his program of studies was, the canon devoted himself with zeal to his devotional exercisesadoration, prayer, Mass, the recitation of the Divine Office. It was in these activities that his soul found the strength to bear the missionary's cross. Around this time, he wrote to his parents, «The land you clear will one day no longer be yours; what you love, will one day pass on to others. We must love the land, of course; but we must love it only to the degree that it leads us to God, to the degree that it tells us how beautiful and merciful God is. The rest doesn't matter, because the rest will pass away. Yes, all the rest will pass away. But my affection for you will not pass away, for, in Heaven, we will always love one another.»
A mixed joy
In September 1939, world war broke out. China was invaded by Japan, and the army occupied the Tibetan border lands, which gave rise to shortages, popular uprisings, and looting. Father Tornay was faced with the problem of feeding the «probatory,» a sort of preparation for the minor seminary established by the canons and entrusted to his direction. He went so far as to beg to feed his boys, but himself had to sometimes spend entire days with nothing to eat but fern roots. «'To carry the cross,'» he wrote at the time, «I have come to understand a little the meaning of this phrase.» But the general misery, far from discouraging him, only increased his desire to do good around him. «The more difficult the times become, the more urgent it is to take care of souls.» The war was not yet over in March 1945 when Father Tornay was named the parish priest of Yerkalo (altitude 2,650 meters), in southeast Tibet. To accept this position was to embark on a path that had every chance of ending in martyrdom. In fact, several priests had already met their deaths there because of the local authorities' religious intolerance. At the news of his nomination, the missionary sought refuge in prayer. My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt (Mt. 26:39).
Two clashing armies
«I had not yet arrived in Yerkalo,» Father Tornay wrote in his journal, «when there were already whispers about getting rid of the missionary. During the lamas' dances in Karmda, they proclaimed, before heaven and earth, that the missionary would soon be forced to leave under the threat of the worst punishments that a human can fear, that the Christians would have to apostatize and all their children wear the lama's robes; for 'there must be only one religion in the land of a thousand gods.'» Despite the danger and difficulties of his apostolate, Father Tornay wanted to stay put. Like the holy Curé d'Ars, who said, «Leave a parish twenty years without a priest, and the people there will be worshipping animals,» he was well aware that the people needed missionaries in order to know God's law and to remain faithful to it, thanks to the sacraments of the Church. Gun-Akhio's threats did not deter him from his duty: «I was sent to Yerkalo by my bishop, and I will stay there as long as he keeps me there,» wrote Father Tornay to a confrere. «If they want to remove me, there's only one way for the lamasto tie me to the back of a mule and chase him away. I will yield only to force.» The order to yield only to force had been given him by his bishop. Even when the lamas openly shouted to him, «You will leave! You will leave! We will kill you! We will throw you in the Mekong!», Tornay didn't flinch.
On the morning of January 26, 1946, about forty lamas invaded the missionary's residence, looted it, destroyed it, and, under the threat of 12 rifles, took the Father away in exile to Pame in Chinese Yunnan. Thus began a year that would be the most difficult in all his life as a missionary. The village in fact had only one Christian family; the old Tibetan who took him in was a drunkard; and the lamas continued to threaten him with death if he didn't break off correspondence with his faithful in Yerkalo. He prayed a great deal, visited the inhabitants, and cared for the sick.
At the beginning of May 1946, Father Tornay received a letter from the Governor of Chamdo, the highest civil authority in east Tibet. The governor promised him his protection and invited him to return to Yerkalo. On May 6, the Father set off, but on the edge of Yerkalo he was stopped by Gun-Akhio: «Stop! You are forbidden to go further.» With death in his soul, the Father went back in the middle of the night. Without losing heart, he then conceived a plan to go to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet (a 34-day walk), to obtain religious freedom for the Christians of Yerkalo from the Dalai Lama, the highest religious and political leader in the country. He was encouraged in this plan by representatives from the Holy See and from the Swiss and French governments.
Arrival in the true homeland
While still a high school student, Maurice Tornay had written, «Death is the happiest day of our lives. We must rejoice in it more than anything, because it is our arrival in our true homeland.» After having walked in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd Who gives His life for His sheep, Blessed Maurice entered into eternal life. May he obtain for us a portion of his passionate love for Christ and help us live up to the demands of His love for us!