A Chinese lady who came to Ireland recently told me that her grandfather had been missing from their home for most of her childhood. The reason? He was imprisoned in 1951 because he had been president of her village branch of the Legion of Mary. Her family did not know if he was dead or alive until they heard indirectly from him in 1979. Because of the family relationship, her father was not allowed to study beyond primary school.
I asked her whether she knew the Legion of Mary had been founded in Dublin by a Dubliner, Frank Duff, 96 years ago? Also that the man who brought the Legion, an organisation of lay Catholics who want to be involved in church activities, to China in 1948 was Fr Aiden McGrath, a Columban missionary and another Dubliner? She was not aware of that.
The Legion had been enthusiastically welcomed by young Chinese Catholics but, when the Communist government took over, it was labelled a ‘public enemy’ and steps taken to supress it. Fr McGrath was put in solitary confinement for three years and then expelled. The government’s views was that the Legion was a pro-active religious group in an atheistic country and its name included the provocative word ‘army ‘ (in Chinese it is translated as ‘The Army of Mary’).
Today the Legion might not be so strong in Ireland but there are said to be 10 million members around the world and if there are any in China today they are keeping their heads down.