Friday, October 1, 2010

True Story-- continued from yesterday

                                    First Communion in the Palace

A year later, September fifth, 1897, the princess sent a messenger to ask me to see her that evening, that I  might hear her confession and, if possible, give her  First Communion. This time it was arranged that I should go to her at the palace. In a chair not unlike the one she had used, I left my house about nine o'clock in the evening, carrying the Blessed Sacrament on my breast was taken through a side-door to the room of a Christian servant. The porters having been dismissed, I was led across several courts to the apartments of a court lady who was in the secret.  On the way I narrowly escaped running into one of the guards who make the round of the palace during the entire night. Each of them is armed with a long stick, bound  with iron, with which he strikes the ground, making a horrible noise. We stood aside in the shadow until he passed, and continued on our way.

A very old lady of the court received me in her  room, where I found also the lady who had been present at Princess Mary's baptism. I laid the Blessed Sacrament on a table which had been made ready for it, lit a candle, and awaited the coming of the princess. At half past eleven I heard a slight noise  and rose quickly. It was indeed the king's mother who approached, having profited by a moment when all her attendants were asleep to have herself carried on the back of a slave to the room in which I awaited her. After our greetings and some little conversation Princess Mary asked me to hear her confession. I did so at once, and afterwards prayers were read to her in preparation for Holy Communion. Shortly after midnight I put on my surplice and stole and gave her Holy Communion. I can still see the whole scene: the aged princess kneeling before me to receive Our Lord, and behind her two pagan ladies of the palace with a humble Christian servant between them, all three reverently  bent low. Such was the First Communion of Princess Mary in the early morning of the sixth of September, 1897, when she was eighty years of age. It was her last communion as well as her first. I was obliged to interrupt her thanksgiving to take leave of her, and never saw her again.

                                    Pagan Rites Over a Christian Body

Towards the end of the year she fell ill, but profited by a day on which she was better to send me messages, recommending herself to my prayers and begging me, if possible to see her husband, the old regent, Heung-song-koun, who was also very ill. She hoped that I might be able to bring him into the Church. I had no further news of her until the morning of January ninth, when word was brought me that she had died the evening before. In any case it would have been impossible for me to be with her at the last. Knowing this, she had told a Christian servant to stay beside her, and in words agreed between them to suggest pious thoughts until the end came.

I felt it my duty to seek an audience with the king, that I might offer my condolence and tell him that his mother had died a Christian. Some one's indiscretion had already appraised him of the fact, and fearing that I should mention it before the assembled court he refused to see me, sending word that he was unusually busy and would summon me later.

I asked also, for an interview with Heung-song-koun, as the princess had asked me to do. He sent me effusive messages of thanks, but explained that he was not on friendly terms with his son and a visit from me at that moment might get us both into trouble. Perhaps this, too, was but an excuse.

Obliged by ill health to go to Shanghai for two months' rest, it was there that I learned of the regent's death on the twenty-second  of February. National obsequies-entirely pagan of course- were held at the same time for him and for Princess Mary. For her soul she had only the portion of the poor: the generous suffrages of the Church and a few Masses said at the request of some humble Christian servants.

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