In the Lion’s Den
The unexpected encounter of a priest with a top Communist leader.
by Peter Mullan, LC | Source:
The enemy fighter jets circling the airplane made the message clear: Land now! Father Philip Cascia’s heart sank together with the aircraft as they began the descent to the nearest airbase.
This was Vietnam in the late 1980s and Communist tyranny was at its height. A Catholic priest from the United States could not expect much hospitality, but Fr Phil had come to extend a hand in friendship.
The Cold War tension between Communist and Western nations had reached an alarming level, and the Reagan administration was eager for a solution. They jumped at Fr Cascia’s idea of sending young athletes to compete against their peers in the enemy’s country, as a way of drawing both sides closer together.
Now was Fr Phil’s chance to present the plan to the Communists. Would it work? This first reception by Mig fighters was not reassuring, but Fr Phil asked God for a sign of his blessing.
Two minutes after landing, the Western aircraft was swarming with soldiers. The Communist henchmen became especially hostile when they saw the clerical collar. They ordered Fr Cascia off the plane immediately.
The guards brusquely showed him to an interrogation room. A barrage of insults and accusations followed. A Vatican spy from the US was never going to be allowed to enter Hanoi, the capital. Hope of success dwindled for Father.
He was then made to understand that the worst was still to come: The commanding general would have to interrogate him. Fr Phil could see the evil glee shine in his captors’ eyes as they waited for their general to arrive and commence the “interview."
When the general arrived, a new verbal assault ensued. At its climax, the commander ordered all of the guards out of the room. Bracing himself for the worst, Fr Cascia could hardly have expected what was to happen.
With no one left but the two of them, the general knelt down and kissed Father’s hand. “My mother always prayed that God send me a priest, no matter where I was,” the Communist explained. “When I saw you get off the plane, I knew you were sent by God.”
Stunned by the sudden turn of events, Father Cascia heard the general’s confession. So as not to arouse suspicion, the general soon ordered the soldiers back in and resumed his harangue against the Papist spy.
Not only did the general allow Fr Phil continue on his journey to meet Communist leaders at Hanoi, but he even re-fueled the plane. Father’s sign had been granted, giving him the courage to continue doing good.
Father Philip Cascia’s program was a total success, bringing together athletes from Afghanistan, the USSR, Vietnam and the United States. In recognition for his work, he was twice named a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.
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