“Letters from China”, with vibration and love

I consider these “Letters” as one more echo of Jesus’ mandate to the Apostles: Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature (Mk 16, 15). Its author, Fulgencio de Bargota, a Capuchin priest from Navarra, together with other missionaries, went to the Far East to spread the word of God. The year was 1927, and his letters testify to the apostolic work full of serious difficulties and also the deep joy of someone who knows he is an apostle sent by Christ. The recipients of the letters were the Capuchins of Pamplona, ​​who were publishing them in their magazine “Verdad y Caridad”. An emeritus professor of Spanish Language and Literature, Magdalena Aguinaga, has now collected them in the book “Letters from Kansu (China) 1927-1930”.

The Lord arranged that Jerónimo -first name of the missionary-, died very young, at 31 years of age. He could only write 14 letters, quite long, that exude a human and spiritual vibration. At the same time, the deep and supernatural vision with which he judges the events experienced means that they have not lost their relevance, despite the fact that almost a century has passed since they came from his pen. By way of synthesis, I will highlight four “flashes”: the first, on the dangers that his life faced and that those of Saint Paul remind us of when he writes: “In my repeated trips I suffered dangers from rivers, dangers from thieves (…); work and fatigue (..), with hunger and thirst..” (2 Co 11, 26-27). The second, related to the essentials of his mission: to make the Christian faith known. The third “flash”, on the importance given to the family and school union, for an integral formation. And finally, about the care of the most elementary basic needs, of a material and sanitary type.

His trip to the Kansu mission, some 2,000 km west of Shanghai, was quite an adventure. The civil wars that ravaged the country forced missionaries to travel through gorges and waterways, infested with bandits and robbers. This single sample button is enough, in a letter dated December 15, 1927: “All the boatmen are in the boat fixing the ropes because the wind is strong. The clock marks 11:25 when a loud detonation resounds throughout the valley. At the moment the sail is lowered and with a terrifying gesture marked on their face, “Sen-fu, Touffi”, “Father, the thieves”, the boatmen tell us, and they jump into the water to shelter themselves with the boat; rifle and revolver discharges follow one another without interruption. We understood that they are the thieves (…), and immediately we lay down on the ground, defending our heads with our suitcases and sleeping blankets.

The fire they make on the boat is horrible. Father Simón gives us absolution, and we give it to him. (…) We began the prayer of the holy rosary. The bullets whistle after piercing the boards of the boat; some splinters fall at our feet. (…) We believe it is impossible to get out of that trance alive and we do the act of accepting death, offering our lives for the conversion of Kansu and of the whole of China. We encourage each other to die for Jesus Christ. (…) We already have them in the boat. Two, one of them armed with a rifle and the other, caressing the trigger of the revolver with his forefinger, ask us if we have any weapons; we teach them the rosary that we have in our hands, our only defense weapon. We hope that a bullet will open the doors of heaven for us, but there is none of that.”

This exciting story continues, and it was only the first of other similar assaults also collected in his “Letters”. But he let the reader know them directly if he dares to read them.

The second “flash”, about Fulgencio’s desire to spread the faith in Christ, is already present in the passage just transcribed: the offering of their lives for the conversion of the whole of China is sufficient testimony. However, I will mention another letter from 1929 addressed, as it appears at the beginning, “to the students of Fuenterrabía.” He refers to events from the previous Christmas, and I transcribe again some paragraphs: “A few days ago we baptized 17 catechumens. What a kick we gave the devil!… and those who await him!

“At Christmas I made a small foray into Sant-chá in which I suffered from hunger, horrible cold, and in grave danger of falling into the hands of thieves. On Christmas day, my succulent menu consisted of the following dishes: first, a good appetite; second, a pear; third, a piece of bread; fourth, thank you and tablecloths were not raised because they were conspicuous by their absence. Will they believe that I lost my temper? Nothing is further from reality.

He was happier than the Easter he celebrated. It occurred to me what the great missionary, Saint Paul, says: Scio et esurire, et penuriam pati (“I have learned to go hungry and lack everything”) (fil 4, 12), and what better delicacy than getting closer to that model of missionaries and living his life and following in his footsteps, even from afar; from now on you can become fond of S. Pablo. There is no such thing as letters from him ”(oc, p. 99-100)

Third “flash”: the importance of good education for children and young people and care for their families. It refers to the “outdated and anti-pedagogical system of the old Chinese school, which was content to fit a good number of characters into the head, even without understanding the meaning of many”. In meetings with parents they proposed to improve school pedagogy. Thus, in the words of another missionary who worked with Fulgencio, and addressed to the parents, we read: “Now, our plan must be that of the European schools, pursuing the cultivation of natural sciences.”

In a very short time, barely three years, he verified the pedagogical progress and, also, the openness to the Christian faith of the boys who, in turn, wanted to transmit it to their parents and receive baptism. In this regard, the exquisite respect for the freedom of parents is exemplary, as this passage manifests in one of his last letters: “Today there are quite a few children who have presented themselves to the Missionary imploring baptism, although it is impossible to accede to their wishes , as long as their parents do not convert” (p. 123). He offers many other comments and testimonies on the care of families, whether or not they were Christian.

Finally, one last “flash” on the concern of the missionaries for the human attention in their most basic needs. A letter contains the story of the blind man who went to the mission in search of help. His story is overwhelming and reading this letter alone is almost worth the entire book. He also dedicates another, full of gratitude and admiration, to Dr. Fritz Drexler, a German doctor who, along with his wife, went to Kansu to provide medical services there. This letter begins with a question: “How is a doctor in the missions of China, and not in the coastal ones, but in remote Kansu, and more so in these times of revolt?” Nor will I say more about this story, but I do pick up the brief comment of Fulgencio who, clairvoyant and a century away, writes: “Doctors and medicine are a necessity for modern missions.”

As a whole, these “Letters” testify once again to the human and supernatural richness of the missionary work of the Church in the Far East, and of course, in the entire world, since Jesus sent the first Twelve, as he recalled. at first. It only remains for me to add something because if I don’t include it, some of my acquaintances, if they read this article, would ask me: “And why didn’t you say so?”. To avoid possible reproach, and without trying to put other people’s medals on me, I confess: Jerónimo Segura, the author of the “Letters” was my mother’s brother. May he help us – in exchange for the propaganda made – to continue, with vibration and love, the trail that the Lord began.

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“Letters from China”, with vibration and love