In the early days of the revolution in China, Communists had been careful not to molest foreigners, lest world opinion be turned against them. In this tenuous state of peaceful co-existence, Father Karl, a German missionary, was able to continue his missionary activities which consisted in the care of the Catholic communities in several dispersed villages. He was fortunate enough to have a motorcycle, which permitted him to make the rounds each Sunday together with his sacristan.
On one such Sunday, while he was folding his vestments after an early Mass, a voice spoke to him in his mother tongue, “Hab keine Angst, alles wird gut gehen!” (“Have no fear, all will go well!”) He was astonished to hear his own language and asked the group of Chinese peasants that were standing nearby, which of them was it who spoke German so well! “German?” they replied, “Father, you know full well that we are all peasants and have never had any opportunity to learn any foreign language. Why do you ask?”
Evidently, none of them had heard the voice, so Father just brushed it off saying he was just curious–that it didn’t matter.
Little did Father Karl know how much it did matter; for that very day peaceful co-existence was to come to a sudden end with his demise. A local platoon of the People’s Army had received the command to liquidate Father; the Catholic Church was an obstacle to the success of the revolution. Only the execution was not to take place openly, but out on an isolated stretch of the road.
After the Mass kit had been packed, Father and his sacristan set off for the next village up in the hill country. The road was bad and full of curves, making progress slow. Rounding a hairpin curve, a platoon of Communist soldiers arose and opened fire upon him at about thirty-five to forty yards. The first volley “killed” the motorcycle, blowing it away, out from under them. They went sprawling in the dirt. To their good fortune they were able to take refuge behind a small boulder.
Dazed or simply slow-witted, Father Karl was sure that it must be a big mistake. As soon as they would see that he was a Catholic priest everything would be fine. Three times, he stood up to convince them that it was so; three times more they opened fire on him at nearly pointblank range and failed to harm him. Still, they did succeed in convincing him that they meant business, and that they were aiming at him.
At this juncture, his sacristan, who had till now been cowering behind the rock, stood up trying to make the same overture to sound reason and courtesy. Three times he rose to speak, three times their rifles spoke in return, but without effect.
Finally, the Communist soldiers advanced and took them into captivity. The better part of the “interrogation” consisted in a body search, by which it was verified that neither Father nor his sacristan had been wounded by a single bullet in seven volleys. The assassins were so overwhelmed by this that they simply let the two of them go. Of course, they had to go on foot, for the motorcycle had indeed received many a mortal blow.
On the way home, Father Karl recalled the words he had heard after Mass: “Hab keine Angst, alles wird gut gehen!” And he said to himself, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his Angel and rescued me” from the Communist death squad (to apply the words of St. Peter from a similar circumstance: Acts 12, 11).
Walking further, Father Karl asked his sacristan why he too had stood up so many times, after the Communists’ mortal intent had become clear. “Father,” he replied, “how could I ever hold my head high again in the village, after you had risked your life three times for us, unless I too had made a similar effort to plea for our safety?”
(Told by Father Karl to a group of seminarians in Rome; mid 1970’s)