Book of Confessions of Saint Augustine in Chinese

On Friday, July 20, 2001, three heavy packages arrived at the convent of Marcilla (Navarra). Three more packages, among many that frater Manuel had been sending from Taiwan Pierola.

This Augustinian Recollect was part of the first community stationed at the gates of China, waiting for an unlikely but always possible opening. He was one of the two Spaniards who, along with several Chinese, had been chosen to be part of the community of what was then known as Formosa, today Taiwan.

The packages, destined for the museum being formed in Marcilla, contained books, some in Chinese. One of these, in particular, was an old copy of the Confessions of St. Augustine and Piérola dedicated it, in a separate note: “For the Chinese brother who is with you.”

The frater in question was Pío Hou, the first candidate of the new Chinese batch who began to be glimpsed at that moment. He never knew about the book, which was classified in the library of the Theological Center that was then Marcilla.

When making the obligatory record of the book, being in Chinese, the librarian could barely pick up data. He did see that it had not been bought in an anonymous bookstore. He noticed that he was wearing a dedication, also in Chinese, with a signature in Latin characters; or, better, a signature, plus a place and a date. “P. Pedro Kuo, A. R. 31-XII-1950. Beijing.”

Although he had not met him, the librarian knew who that Augustinian recollect friar Pedro Kuo was.

He knew that he was one of the Chinese friars killed in some concentration camp under the communist regime of Mao Tse Tung. Hence he will look at the book with special affection and He had it bound in guaflex, with the addition of corners and the ornament of two ribbons of record. Added to this, embedded in the cover and beautiful Chinese calligraphy, the original title, Confessions of Saint Augustine, along with the name of the translator, Jesuit Professor Wu YingFeng, another martyr who died in prison, probably in 1973. Finally, the librarian awarded him the corresponding title.

The occasion of the Centennial of the Shangqiu Mission (1924-2024) brings objects to the fore like this. Therefore, it is important to decipher the four columns of Chinese characters of the dedication. It includes the words of Augustine in this same work of Confessions III 4:

“This book – he says – changed my heart, directing it towards you. You, God, have once again renewed my vocation”.

In substance, they are the words of the Saint when he comments on the impact it had on him, being a young man, reading Hortensio, the work of Cicero that has now disappeared.

And then comes the dedication itself:

“With respect dedicated [this book] to the priests traveling to Spain.”

By necessity, it must refer to the Spanish missionaries who founded the Mission in 1924.

It will take them several months to return to their homeland, after being expelled by the communist government. But, already on the threshold of what the venerable Mariano Gazpio – so measured he – describes as a “Horrible year”, his departure seems imminent.

In an extremely tragic moment like the one China is experiencing when this young recollect man signs his dedication, the request that follows sounds like a farewell; and, on being urgent, it is so dramatic as well as rich in content:

“Don’t forget to pray for each other!”.

He points to the key that gives continuity to the Chinese Mission when it externally disintegrates Prayer for one another transports to interior places, much more durable and fruitful. Only in them do dark realities such as persecution, suffering, and death itself.