Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fr Hugh Thwaites SJ: RIP

I hear that Fr Hugh Thwaites has just died. May he rest in peace.

Fr Thwaites has been a familiar figure on the traddy scene more or less forever. Despite his advanced age, by the time I met him, he had an extraordinary air of boyish innocence. Innocence, not ignorance. He was a prisoner of war with the Japanese during World War II, and his memoirs of this experience - 'War Memoirs of an amateur' (1997, a little booklet like a CTS book) - are fascinating. He worked on the Burma railway. He became a Catholic while in the army and on his return at the end of the war he went straight to the Jesuits to join them.

On the Japanese:

'First, ... I never hated them. The reason I never tried to learn their language or have anything to do with them was because I felt it was not right to do so. I obeyed them because I had to, but never wished to fraternise with them in any way. We were enemies as long as the war lasted, and that was how I wanted to behave.

'Since the war, and this is something I don't understand, I find I have a special affection for them. Maybe there's a psychological reason for this. St Patrick wanted to go back to the Ireland where he'd been a slave, to evangelise the Irish. ...And Fr Lionel Marsden, one of the great heroes of the prison camps, ...volunteered for the Japanese mission after the war. After my ordination, for many years I was a chaplain to overseas students, and I found that my heart always warmed especially to any Japanese I came across and I always tried to help them.'

On clearing dynamited rubble with wicker baskets:

'It was surprising how much work we did in this primitive way. I no longer marvel at the Pyramids. You could shift Table Mountain to Timbuctoo if you had enough slaves and enough whips.'

After the Japanese surrender:

'In that first letter home I told my parents I'd become a Catholic since leaving England, and that in spite of everything I'd had the happiest three and a half years of my life. I forget how I tried to explain it, but it would not have been more succinct than King David's 'Thou has put put into my heart more than when corn and wine abound' in Psalm 4. I expect my family thought I had gone off my head.'

There's some audio recordings by Fr Thwaites about it here (scroll down).

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