In theory, I was to be his secretary, but he spoke and wrote Latin better than I did. He knew how to begin and end a formal letter to Rome particularly well; so in these instances, I prepared the rough copies only. However, he needed my help for letters in English and in French. He enjoyed conversation, so whenever there was the time, I took advantage of the opportunity to listen to him recounting part of his life story. He was a great admirer of Father Lebbe’s.
Mgr. Tch’eng had been the Principal of St. Peter’s College, the secondary school of the diocese; but now he lived as a refugee in Hanlonian, as I did. Monseigneur‘s health was poor; he was ravaged with diabetes which necessitated frequent meals and a special diet, including snacks of milk and toast.
When we were put under house arrest in December 1941, he was transferred directly to the prison in Linfen, together with the Procurator, General Father Li, and the Vicar General, Father Kao. The cells were two metres by three, and there were three or four prisoners to a cell. The toilet was a bucket in one corner.Mgr. Tch’eng did not survive the rough treatment for more than a few months. He died in Linfen on the 15th of March.
This sad news was whispered to me by a Christian neighbour in
the Residence. I was the only priest allowed to visit Mgr, and I was always
accompanied by a guard. I decided to go to the police station to ask permission
to reclaim the body and give him a decent burial. But how was I going to let
this information slip out casually to the police chief ?
On the way through the main street, I concocted a plan. When I arrived at the station, I stated quite simply that Mgr was dead. ‘How do you know?’ said the Commandant in astonishment. ‘I heard some one behind me on the street murmuring about this death.’ I said. Discomfited, the chief said he was going to find out what had happened.
The next day I received word from the him.’ Make your arrangements to have a wagon at the police station by 15 hours to take delivery of the body of Peter Cheng who was one of the enemy.’ Fortunately there was a Christian who lived opposite the entrance to the Church. His name was Kao. With the permission of my guard, I went to visit Kao, and asked him to come to the police station the next day, bringing his wagon with him.
Padlocks were removed from the Cathedral for the occasion, and the police chief allowed me to arrange for the funeral.
At nine o’clock, the evening before , I entered the Cathedral accompanied by another priest, to try and open the coffin in order to identify the remains as being those of Mgr. Tch’eng. I recognised his face, thanks to the medals hanging on a chain around his neck.
I gave instructions to Christians from far and near, that only men should attend the funeral. Actually, women were fearful of contacts with the Japanese anyway.
By ten o’clock the next morning, the Cathedral was full. The Solemn Funeral Mass was celebrated by three priests. Afterwards we were permitted to leave the town in a funeral cortege to the Christian cemetery half a mile away, behind the Church in Suen Chia Yuan.
I invited the Japanese Commandant and his entourage to tea at the Presbytery, while the Christians brought the casket first into the courtyard of the Holy Childhood Centre (an orphanage perhaps?) Then, on to the cemetery. This strategy allowed us the opportunity to bathe the body, and place it in a decent casket provided by a wealthy Christian. This is how we discovered that the body was covered with lice.