A Catholic Monthly Magazine


Marist Mission Centre, Hunters Hill Sydney

Lionel Marsden SM was the chaplain of the Thai-Burma Railway Prison Camp in 1943. A member of the Japanese army medical corps, Shigemoto San, approached him, told him he was a Catholic and that he wanted to go to Confession. Shigemoto was so grateful that he asked the priest if there was anything he needed.

Fr. Lionel asked for bread and wine for a Christmas Mass, a seemingly impossible request, but Shigemoto somehow managed to acquire a bottle of wine and small cakes made from rice and flour.

The prisoners gathered secretly on Christmas Eve in a bamboo hut. In the midst of this cauldron of suffering, hunger, disease and pain, Fr. Lionel preached on the Christmas story of God’s love, the need for forgiveness, and the importance of clinging to hope.

It is not certain whether it was during that Christmas Mass or later, but at some stage, Fr. Lionel promised his POW friends that if he survived the war, he would go to Japan as a missionary and share the mystery and message of Christmas.

In April 1949, 400 former POWs, war widows, friends and relatives gathered in the Sydney Town Hall to listen to Padre Marsden share his story and farewell him as he departed for Japan.

On 1 May 2019, at the Holy Name Parish Hall, Hunters Hill, Marist Mission Centre is celebrating 70 years since these extraordinary beginnings.   

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