Cardinal Joseph Zen published for the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination on February 11, 1961, his memories on Twitter.com. Worthwhile reading:
It has been 60 years, yes, 60 years have passed. The memories of some things will become closer and clearer when the time is farther apart.
Every year, I count the years of my ordination to the priesthood, and February 11, 2021 marks the 60th anniversary since I became a priest. 60 years is not easy indeed. Think about it, there are 365 days a year, sometimes 3 or 4 masses will be held in one day.
So, how many masses have been celebrated in 60 years? When I look at the photos taken on the day of my priestly ordination, I see Father Carlo Braga only but not my parents. Of course, parents must be the happiest when their sons are ordained, however I believe that my parents, who had a deep relationship with Father Braga, could feel the joy well in advance even though they could not be there.
My father was the one who profoundly inspire me to think about my vocation to the priesthood and I often joked that it was my dad who had the vocation. Many people may have thought that he forced me to become a priest, but that's not true. My father was an open-minded and optimistic person who would never force anyone.
He is a kind person as well, though my vocation was cultivated by him, there was never any pressure. Dad himself wanted to be a priest, but the missionaries thought that marriage was his vocation instead and suggested he should foster vocation among his son.
After getting married, my father had five daughters before I was born. He wanted me to be a priest, and influenced me in a wonderful way by bringing me to masses, which I found enjoyable and not at all dull. On Sundays, my father would go with me to attend five masses in different churches, each of them was beautiful. In between different masses I would have a special breakfast with him, and these memories are unforgettable. My father nurtured my vocation, but a more important influence to me was his sacrifice.
He was originally a very active, optimistic man who loved to do many things and had many friends, but a stroke left him partially paralyzed and forced him to stay at home, which was very sad. Dad was suddenly paralyzed because of the Sino-Japanese War - he lost his job because of the war, and the unemployment caused his blood pressure to soar, then a stroke followed. At that time, our family was very poor but fortunately our uncle provided us a place to stay. Every day, dad could only sit on the couch and stuck at home.
Many people would be weary and sad in such a situation, but he did not, and often read spiritual books and prayed. When I was a junior in high school, l went out to play all day, not staying at home, not studying, my dad was always worried that I would go astray.
When he knew that I had been admitted to the aspirantate, he was delighted and felt at ease, on one hand my mother told him how the aspirantate was like after sending me there; on the other hand, my superior gave me special permission to visit home every month since my father could not come to the aspirantate and see me (the seminary was very strict and we students could not go home at any time). All these made my father feel relieved. Dad even had the opportunity to visit the my aspirantate in Shanghai.
There was actually a big compound which included aspirantate, junior college and theologate. He saw Father Braga singing mass at the Solemn Vespers that day, and dad was seated next to him during the meal, afterwards he even watched our football match.
The house there was once belonged to his boss and my father used to be the manager of the company's football team. I remember when I was four, I was there as well when they took team pictures. Returning to the good old place that day was definitely one of the precious and happiest times in my dad’s life, he passed away a year or two after that day, but I know my father left us with the comfort of knowing that his son had got on the right path in life and joined a fantastic group.
My mother also played an important role in my vocation, as she was the one who sent me to Father Braga. Later, she saw how kind Father Braga was to my father (when my dad arrived at the door of the seminary, he assigned some brothers to carry him to the chapel, the dining room, and the playground), she was also touched and comforted by how her son was grown into a thoughtful and considerate person, especially when reading the letter, I wrote from the preparatory seminar after my father's death.
From a human point of view, my mother faced a bleak old age as well. She suffered from lung disease and kept vomiting blood. Fortunately, my sister and brother-in-law took great care of her, otherwise I could not bear to leave them for the formation of my priesthood.
Although my mom was terribly sick, she often fantasized about her recovery. She went to Macau later when I still had one year to graduate in Italy, and she strongly believed that she could wait till my graduation and back, but in fact she was too skinny already.
My superior once asked her, "Should I arrange Joseph Zen to come back and meet you?” In order not to hinder my study, she insisted not, "Don't call him back, I will wait for him." But in the end, my mother passed away before her son graduated. The practice of the vow of poverty at that time was very different from today. During the 9 years of studies in Italy, I never returned to Hong Kong.
But I believe that Don Bosco has repaid my parents. Although they could not be there when I was ordained in Turin, my father must have seen everything in heaven, and my mother could also see the ordination photos I sent her.
In retrospect, my mother was so fearless to ask me to send the photos back to China. I thought at that time, “It would be too dangerous if the government found the photos.” But my mom insisted.
Let’s talk about my relationship with Father Braga. I was truly blessed compared to my classmates. In the past, only the provincial can preside certain kind of liturgy. For example, when we entered the novitiate, only the provincial can preside the investiture but back then, there was a new bishop in our diocese, so Father Braga invite the bishop to preside. And when the time for my religious profession, Father Braga as our provincial, he was unable to attend because he had gone to Italy for a conference, and later he went to the Philippines.
Regrettably, I thought there would be no more chance for him to participate in my ordination ceremony. Unexpectedly, on the day of my priestly ordination, Father Braga happened to be on vacation in Italy, and I was grateful that he was able to participate and to accompany me to celebrate my First Mass. During the mass, others would kiss the hands of a newly-ordained priest, and he, as my superior, knelt down and kissed my hand, which moved me a lot. I was truly blessed with Father Braga on my First Mass.
My other classmates were envious of seeing the photos because they had not got that chance. I often wonder why I don't remember more about the people in heaven. Mom and Dad, my teachers, they are always there every day. When we celebrate the Holy Mass, they are all around.
So, every day is a feast day. The 60th anniversary of my priesthood reminds me of the many favors God has granted in my life: the great people such as my parents, Father Braga and my novice director, who are all great saints; of course, there are many more, but these four are the key persons who helped to lay my foundation.
The catechism taught by the novice teacher and Father Braga, was filled with humanity yet very solid, this basis strengthens my ability to learn, maybe even more than what they learned; but this unbreakable foundation is the most important. In time of rapid changes, one’s mind can get confused easily. At that time, studying abroad could be dangerous as many people might have learned those confused thoughts.
I want to thank these two teachers for laying a solid foundation so I could judge what was right and what was wrong, and knew how to choose when learning different thoughts.
Up till now, I’m confident to take every future step with these foundations. Even though there is still a long way for me to meet the standard of sainthood, I always know that what I have learned is correct. And I have been relying on the help of these four saints to keep me on the right track during these 60 years.