Blason   Abadia de São José de ​​Clairval

F-21150 Flavigny-sur-Ozerain


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31 Julho 2005
Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Caro amigo da Abadia de São José

One evening by the fireside, Faustine Tornay was telling her youngest children, Maurice and Anna, about the life of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr. At their request, she explained, «You are both virgins, my dear children, but to be martyrs, that's more difficult... You must love God more than anything else, and be ready to give your life, to shed the last drop of your blood for Him, rather than offend Him...» Maurice reacted quick as lightning: «You'll see, Anna, yes, you'll see, I'm going to be a martyr...» Prophetic words—on May 16, 1992, he would be beatified as a martyr by Pope John Paul II.

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 to—Saint 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 meditation—he 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?

One day, speaking about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Maurice said, «He has made our soul a ciborium and He remains there perpetually, unless we are mad enough to chase Him away from it through mortal sin.» This remark reveals a lucid gaze on the greatest evil that can strike man—sin. «The sinner wounds God's honor and love, his own human dignity as a man called to be a son of God, and the spiritual well-being of the Church, of which each Christian ought to be a living stone,» recalls the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). «To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world» (CCC 1487-88). Sin is every act, word, or desire contrary to God's law. The Church distinguishes between venial sin and mortal (or grave) sin. Venial sin cools the love of God in our hearts without depriving us of the life of grace. Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man through a serious infraction of God's law. In committing mortal sin, man turns away from God, Who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to Him. Three conditions are required for a sin to be mortal: serious matter, full knowledge, and complete consent (cf. CCC 1855-57)

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 today—against 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...»

An abhorrence of sin, which was firmly anchored in Maurice's heart, revealed one of the fruits of an upbringing impregnated by the spirit of faith. Having reached the end of his secondary studies, the young man applied for admittance to the Canons Regular of Great St. Bernard. He wrote his intent to the provost of this congregation: «To correspond to my vocation, which is to leave the world and devote myself completely to the service of souls so as to lead them to God, and to save myself as well.» The Canons' mission is summed up in the words engraved on the hospice's frontispiece: «Hic Christus adoratur et pascitur—Here Christ is adored and fed.» In attending to the celebration of the Mass and of the Canonical Hours, they are also shepherds of souls, providing assistance to the pilgrims who must cross the Alps, or serving the Church in other ministries entrusted to them by the bishops. At the time he was leaving his family, Maurice answered his eldest sister who suggested that he stay with them: «There is something even greater than all the treasures of the world.» On August 25, 1931, he was admitted to the novitiate of the hospice of Great St. Bernard, situated at 2,472 meters above sea level where, in winter, the temperature can drop to -20° C.

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 hurry—at 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

Providentially, the Foreign Missions of Paris had just appealed to the Congregation of Great St. Bernard to send to the Himalayas some religious accustomed to living in the mountains. After considering the request, the provost, Msgr. Bourgeois, decided to comply, and a first group of religious left for Weixi in Yunnan (southwest of China) in January 1933, but Maurice was not among them. In January 1934, doctors diagnosed an ulcer in Maurice's duodenum that required surgery. He had a long convalescence. This experience of suffering brought him to encourage his parents and his brothers and sisters to make better use of this too often unrecognized treasure of suffering endured in union with the suffering Christ. «Do you know,» he wrote to his sister Josephine, «that when you are cold and you offer this cold to the Lord, you can convert a pagan? And that all the well-endured sufferings of one day earn you more merit than if you had prayed all day long? What an easy means you have to do me good, to do the whole world good... All our littlest sufferings have infinite value if we unite them to Christ's sufferings. Oh, how Christ would love you then!»

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 soul—for 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 again—theology, 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 exercises—adoration, 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

Having brilliantly passed his theological exams, Canon Tornay was ready to be ordained a priest. The closest prelate, Bishop François Chaize, lived in Hanoi, so the young deacon undertook a 20-day journey to go there. The very night of his ordination, April 24, 1938, he wrote to his parents, «Your son is a priest! Glory to God! This news will give you a mixed joy, because I am not in your midst. But you are Christians and you understand. There is a God Whom we must serve with all our strength. It is for this that I left, it is for this that you endured my departure so well.»

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

In the area where Father Tornay was carrying out his apostolate, the lama leader Gun-Akhio had absolute power in matters of religion as well as in the economic and political spheres. He harbored an implacable hatred of missionaries. Saint Paul had already warned his beloved disciple Timothy of the trials that workers for the Gospel would always endure: All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tm. 3:12). There is no reason to be surprised at that, because if «God ... did ordain to intervene in human history in a way both new and definitive [and] sent His Son, clothed in our flesh, in order that through Him He might snatch men from the power of darkness and Satan and reconcile the world to Himself in Him» (Second Vatican Council, Decree Ad Gentes, no. 3), the forces of evil, making use of the free cooperation of men, are fighting to prevent the proclamation of the truth that saves. A great missionary bishop in Papua at the beginning of the 20th century, Bishop Alain de Boismenu, wrote, «There are two kingdoms that divide the world and fight for souls, two armies always and violently clashing—the army of Jesus Christ, the Church, ardent to save souls; and the army of Satan, raging to lose them. A war both unceasing and ruthless. Many are not aware of it, and many think it a myth. It is nevertheless quite real. It is the invisible fabric of the history of the world, until the end of time. It is a formidable reality that we must, above all, firmly believe in.»

«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 lamas—to 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

On July 10, 1949, Father Tornay, joining a merchants' caravan, undertook the long journey to Lhasa that would last two months. Even though he had shaven his beard and wore Tibetan dress, he was recognized and informed against during a stop. Forced to leave the caravan and to retrace his steps, the Father nevertheless managed to rejoin it. «We must not be afraid,» he said to his companions, «for if they kill us, we will go straight to Heaven. We will die for the Christians.» The caravan stopped, close to the border, on Yunnan territory, at a place called Tothong. The place was ominous, ideal for an ambush. Suddenly, four armed lamas burst in from the brush. The Father shouted, «Don't shoot! Let's talk!» But at that very moment, two gunshots rang out. The Father rushed towards his faithful companion, Doci, who had been wounded. Again, gunfire—Father Maurice Tornay collapsed under the bullets. It was August 11, 1949, in the Tothong forest, near Choula gorge (3,000 meters), towards noon. Later, the Chinese authorities would impose a heavy fine on the Karmda lamasery for this crime. Guilt for the murder was officially established. The motive: «The Father was spreading the Catholic religion in Yerkalo.» The Catholic faith is still alive there today.

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!

Dom Antoine Marie osb