By KATHY SCHMUGGE
Every two years the Legion of Mary’s top brass get together for a weekend filled with training, guidance, good fellowship, and inspirational speakers. This year’s October conference, held at the Legion of Mary House in Coral Gables, Fla., near Miami, exceeded these goals and South Carolina’s representatives were fortunate to be a part of it.
“The conference is a training session for officers of the higher council who represent the many praesidia (legion units) in their state,” said Ivy Tominec, vice president of the Miami Regia, a legion council whose authority extends to South Carolina.
Because South Carolina does not have a higher council or curia of its own, they were permitted to invite five officers, a legionary and a spiritual director instead of just two officers. South Carolina is currently preparing for their own curia since the number of praesidia has greatly increased with retired Bishop David B. Thompson’s support of the legion’s growth in the diocese throughout the years. Other states in attendance were Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky.
“The conference was filled with information on how to strengthen each praesidium through prayer, dedication and hard work. My greatest pleasure was meeting some of the other legion members and talking about their own praesidium,” said Paul Williams, parishioner at Good Shepherd in Columbia and Corpus Christi legionary.
The guest speaker, Catherine Ho, gave a shot of inspiration in the arms of legionaries with her compelling life story of faith. A Chinese convert at age 14, she found herself sentenced to prison in her country simply because she was a member of the Legion of Mary. In 1951, the Chinese communist government ordered the legion to be eradicated because it was considered “a reactionary group.” The young 18-year-old did not succumb to the tidal wave of pressure coming from all directions to resign from the Legion of Mary.
“We had come to the point of having to do everything to keep our faith, to give up our future so as to guarantee its integrity, and to shed our own blood to preserve it,” said Ho.
In her book, The Lark and the Dragon, she described how a government run “Catholic Church” was also established in an attempt to sever the Church in China from Rome. The government did not succeed, even though the veneer church is still in existence today.
For 21 years she “felt the weight of the cross,” enduring torture, humiliation and isolation in prison, knowing that she would be freed, if she would only renounce the pope and resign from the Legion of Mary. She saw churches close, friends and clergy murdered, foreign religious expelled from the country, yet she remained faithful through it all.
After her release from prison in 1979, she left China with her husband, Joseph, and has been living in the United States for 17 years. Today her main focus is to recapture the youth by telling her story and explaining how God offers peace even in the most difficult circumstances. She wants them to understand why as a young person, she chose to stand up for her faith. The youth in South Carolina will be able to hear her speak at Corpus Christi Church in Lexington during a Legion of Mary event in May.
“This is my third conference and each time I am energized and inspired to continue service under Our Lady’s leadership covered in the graces of her spouse, the Holy Spirit,” said Vicky Reese, S.C. diocesan extension worker for the Legion of Mary. “We are all called by virtue of our baptism to become lay apostles for Christ in the world.”
Ho lead the participants of the conference into a renewed commitment to their objectives for the Millennium — to glorify God through holiness. Her story could not help but make an imprint on their hearts, giving them the courage to “finish the race” (2 Timothy 4:7) which is part of legionary service.