The Secret Cardinal: Excerpt

The Secret Cardinal





Do this in remembrance of me.

Yin Daoming tilted his head back slightly as he raised the sacramental cup toward heaven. It was only a drinking glass, but he held it as reverently as a golden chalice, and on its glossy surface he glimpsed his reflection—a serious young man with a solid, clean-shaven face. Many of the young women in the village near Shanghai where he was raised thought Yin would make a fine husband, only to be disappointed when he accepted his calling to the Catholic priesthood. A humble man, Yin likened himself to the glass he held high, a simple vessel of God’s grace, an instrument for serving God by serving His people.

The glass, with its mixture of water and wine, glinted in the reflected light of candles arranged on a makeshift altar. The sacramental vintage at these clandestine services was typically a few ounces of the locally brewed baijiu—an incendiary 90-proof beverage. No obvious physical change could be detected in the rose-colored liquid, but Yin knew with absolute certainty that the miracle of transubstantiation had occurred—that what he held before him was spiritually the blood of Jesus Christ.

Yin lowered the glass to his lips and took a small sip, the heavily diluted baijiu burning his throat like liquid fire. As a seminarian, Yin had once asked his bishop if using such a potent alcohol for sacramental purposes wasn’t in some way sacrilegious. The bishop assured him that although Rome might find baijiu a bit unorthodox, it would overlook certain local adaptations, especially given the persecution of the Church in Communist China. The Roman Catholic minority in the world’s most populous nation found itself in a Darwinian struggle to survive, and it would either adapt or die.

The shades in the room were drawn against the hostility of the outside world. The earliest Christians had existed in much this way under the pagan rule of imperial Rome. Thirty-three members of the extended family in whose home Yin celebrated this mass knelt around the low wooden table that served as the altar. The youngest, a baby girl, seemed to have forgotten the brief trauma of her baptism and suckled her mother’s breast contentedly.

Siblings and cousins waited patiently as Yin distributed communion first to the family elders. The celebration of mass was a rare event, and Yin labored to ensure that each service was memorable enough to be worth the risk of attendance. For a majority of the world’s Catholics, the only peril mass presented was to their soul if they failed to attend regularly. But the danger to Yin’s persecuted flock was more immediate. The government in Beijing viewed attendance at an illegal mass as an expression of loyalty to a foreign entity over which China’s leaders held no control. The penalties for this crime included intimidation, imprisonment, and occasionally death.

Only the oldest of those present at this gathering could recall a time when Chinese Roman Catholics practiced their religion openly. Their children and grandchildren had learned their catechism in whispers and cloaked their faith in a mask of officially sanctioned atheism. In the countryside, people did not abandon the beliefs of their honored ancestors at the whim of rulers in distant Beijing. Nor did they behave in a way that might draw their government’s wrath. The underground Catholics of China bent like the willows in the wind, but they did not break.

After distributing the bread of the Eucharist, Yin offered the wine, reenacting a ritual that originated with the Passover Seder Jesus shared with his closest friends on the eve of his crucifixion. The simple act brought Yin and his congregants into communion with a billion other Roman Catholics around the world and with God.

Yin had prayed in beautiful churches, but nowhere did he feel closer to the Creator than with those clinging to their faith against immense hardship. It was in ministering to his endangered flock that Yin truly fulfilled his calling as a priest and became, in the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, a channel of Christ’s peace.

“This is the blood of Christ,” Yin said reverently as he offered the glass to a boy just old enough to make his first communion.

The boy bowed his head respectfully and replied, “Amen,” but barely allowed the scorching liquid to touch his lips. Yin suppressed a smile.

As Yin took the glass from the boy, he heard a metallic sound, the bolts on a heavy door pulling open. It was a sound he knew well, but not from this place.

“Wake up, old man,” a voice barked.

Light flooded in and the sacramental scene faded, erased from his mind’s eye by the intrusion. In an instant, the clandestine mass withdrew into his precious trove of memories.

Yin was sitting in the middle of a bare two-meter-square cell surrounded on all sides by concrete. Legs crossed and hands palm down on his knees, he sat as erect and serene as Buddha. Only hints remained of the lustrous black hair of his youth, scattered threads in a mane whitened by age and hardship. Whiter still was his skin, bleached a ghostly shade by decades denied the warm light of the sun.

A thick steel door and a small air vent were the only suggestion of a world outside the cell. In a tamper-proof fixture recessed into the ceiling, a lone dim bulb provided nearly the only illumination to reach Yin’s eyes in thirty years. He had long ago lost all sense of day and night, and of the larger passages of time—temporal disorientation being but one of the techniques employed against prisoners like Yin.

“I said wake up!”

The guard punctuated his command by jabbing the end of an electrified baton into Yin’s abdomen. Yin exhaled sharply at the explosion of pain and toppled backward, careful not to strike his head against the floor.

“I am awake, my son,” Yin panted softly, regaining his breath.

“I’d rather be the offspring of a pig farmer and his ugliest sow than any son of yours,” the guard spat back. “Get up!”

Yin rubbed his stomach and squinted at the bright light pouring in from the corridor. His tormentor was a dark silhouette, and beyond the doorway stood several more guards.

The Chinese court had sentenced Yin to death for his many crimes against the state—an order not yet carried out for political reasons. The authorities recognized Yin as a man of great charisma and deep personal faith—a combination that could spread his foreign religion like a plague were he placed with the prison’s general population. So unlike most prisoners in the laogai—the gulags of China—Yin was not permitted the opportunity to reform himself through the state’s generous program of hard labor and reeducation. Instead, he was subjected to lengthy periods of isolation, punctuated by beatings and interrogations.

Yin knew it had been weeks, possibly months, since his last interrogation. The same questions were asked every time, and always he provided the same answers. The brutal sessions came far less frequently now than in the early years of his incarceration, more a task on a bureaucratic checklist than any genuine attempt at reform. After years of systematic effort, the Chinese government seemed to accept the fact that the underground bishop of Shanghai would die before renouncing the pope or the Church of Rome.

Yin rose to his feet and awaited the next command.

“Out!” the guard barked.

Yin followed as the guard backed through the door. Compared with the dimness of his cell, the light in the corridor burned his eyes as brightly as the noonday sun. The four guards stared at their charge with disgust.

“Restraints,” the senior guard commanded.

Yin assumed a familiar position with his feet spread shoulder-width apart and his arms extended from his sides. Two guards cinched a wide leather belt tightly around his thin waist. Four chains hung from the belt, each terminating in a steel manacle. Yin showed no outward sign of discomfort as the manacles dug into his wrists and ankles, knowing it would only invite a beating. The arteries in his wrists throbbed, and his hands began to tingle with numbness.

The lead guard inspected the restraints, though he knew they were unnecessary. Yin had never reacted violently toward a guard in all his years of imprisonment. The only danger the bishop posed was to himself, and that because of his stubbornness. Satisfied that Yin was securely bound, the guard motioned the escort to proceed.

Yin kept his head bowed and his eyes on the floor as he moved down the corridor. The simplest gesture, a nod or glance at anyone, was forbidden and would result in a severe beating, as the badly healed break in his left arm bore testament. Yin’s eyes gradually grew accustomed to the light as he shuffled along, taking two short steps for each stride by the guards.

Just up ahead, Yin thought, counting his steps.

The guards stopped. A buzzer sounded the release of the electronic locks securing the door to the solitary-confinement wing. The heavy steel door slid open, and the small procession continued.

Almost there, almost there.

Then he saw it—a glint, a tiny sliver of light on the floor. Yin turned his head a few degrees to the right and gazed upward. A small window, barred and paned with grimy wired glass, but a window nonetheless to the world outside. It was midday, and the sky was clear and blue.

A thin plastic cane lashed across Yin’s back, causing him to drop to his knees. The return stroke caught his right shoulder, and Yin toppled to the floor.

“Enough!” the lead guard commanded. “Get him back on his feet.”

The guard who had struck him grabbed Yin’s arm and pulled him up so forcefully that the bony shoulder popped. Despite the blinding pain, Yin found his feet, and when the guard released his arm, the traumatized joint slipped back into place.

The march continued through the concrete corridors of the prison, the light rustle of Yin’s sandals lost in the guards’ heavy boot steps. Yin knew the route by heart, but only one way—rarely did he emerge from an interrogation conscious.

Yin felt a conflicting mixture of relief and dread when the guards walked him past the doorway that led to the corridor of interrogation rooms. Today’s journey from his cell was to be different.

Lord, Yin prayed silently, whatever is your will, I remain your servant.

The guards escorted Yin through parts of the prison he could not recall. Then a doorway opened, and Yin felt a breeze kiss his face. It was not the prison’s fetid air thick with rotting filth and human sweat, processed and recirculated by dilapidated machinery. This breeze was a whisper from the heavens. Yin detected the faint aroma of prairie in summer and the sweetness in the air that follows a cleansing rain.

So they have finally grown weary of me, Yin thought.

The only reason Yin could fathom for the guards to take him outside was to put a bullet in the back of his head, so he savored each breath of fresh air as if it were his last.

“Stop!” the lead guard barked.

Yin kept his head bowed and focused on his silent prayers. The sound of footsteps crunching on gravel, the measured strides of a long-legged man, intruded on his meditations.

“The prisoner, as ordered,” the lead guard announced respectfully.

Yin heard a rustle of paper and glimpsed a file folder in the hands of a tall man who wore not a uniform but the dark gray suit and polished black leather shoes of a businessman.

“Show me his face,” the man ordered.

One of the guards grabbed a handful of Yin’s hair and jerked his head back. Yin’s eyes traveled up the elegantly tailored suit past a pair of broad shoulders. The man’s face was long and hard, the skin taut over bone and muscle. His jet-black mane swept back from his face, held in place like a glossy veneer so slick that the morning breeze had not dislodged a single hair. The man’s mouth was a thin line that betrayed no emotion. Yin guessed his age somewhere between late thirties and mid-forties—only a child when Yin arrived at Chifeng Prison.

When Yin’s eyes met those of Liu Shing-Li, the old priest shuddered. Liu was appraising the prisoner with eyes so unnaturally black that it was impossible to discern between iris and pupil. Liu’s eyes seemed to absorb everything into their unfathomable darkness while betraying nothing. Yin had always viewed hell not as a sea of unquenchable fire but as a state of being totally removed from God. This was what he saw in Liu’s eyes.

“Clean him up,” Liu ordered. “And put him in a new uniform. The rags he’s wearing should be burned.”

The lead guard nodded and gave the orders to his men. They marched Yin a short distance to the motor pool, where they stripped him of his threadbare garments and shackled him to a steel post with his arms above his head. Two jets of icy water pounded the bishop’s frail body, the guards laughing as they directed the high-pressure streams at his face and genitals. Yin choked, coughing up blood and water, his lungs desperate for air.

With the same brushes used to clean the prison’s trucks, the guards attacked Yin’s flesh until it was raw. Yin shivered uncontrollably, his body confused by the combination of numbness and the burning of industrial cleansers.

“Hold him still,” a guard barked as he pulled out a knife.

A pair of hands roughly clasped Yin’s head, and the sharp blade scraped and tore at his facial hair. Years of growth fell away, and blood-tinged water streaked the bishop’s emaciated body. While hacking at Yin’s mustache, the guard sliced a narrow strip of skin from Yin’s nose, and blood flowed freely from the wound.

After shearing fistfuls of Yin’s ragged mane, the guards turned on the hoses once more to finish the job. They then brusquely dried him off and gave him a new prison uniform, its cloth stiff and rough against his skin.

The guards reattached Yin’s restraints and again presented him to Liu. At Liu’s nod, Yin was handed over to the soldiers accompanying Liu and loaded into the back of an armored military transport. Two benches ran down the sides of the windowless compartment. Yin sat where he was told.

As the soldiers secured Yin’s restraints to the steel loop bolted to the floor, Liu signed the paperwork authorizing transfer of the prisoner into his custody and dismissed the prison guards. Liu then donned a pair of sunglasses, slipped into the passenger seat of a dark gray Audi sedan, and signaled his driver to get moving. It would be a long drive to Beijing.

* * * * *

Accompanied by four soldiers, Yin moved across the countryside inside the steel box on wheels. The men did not converse with him, or even among themselves, and they acknowledged his existence only once with a meager meal and a scheduled relief stop. Yin knew this was partly due to his status as a prisoner and an enemy of the state, labels that made him less than human in their eyes. Too, the soldiers’ masters feared his faith like a contagion—the bishop of Shanghai was hazardous cargo. Yin felt no animosity toward the soldiers but rather sympathy for their predicament. To protect them from risk of punishment, Yin kept his silence and prayed for them.

The two vehicles reached the outskirts of central Beijing shortly after sunset. In a modern metropolis teeming with nearly thirteen million people, the rundown district seemed oddly abandoned. Soldiers manning one of the roadblocks that cordoned off the area scanned Liu’s papers and waved him past.

The long journey from Chifeng ended a few blocks farther in an alley behind a modest theater. The brick building dated to the waning days of the imperial era, and the intervening years had not been kind. Armed men clad in riot gear stood guard at the theater doors, which appeared both solid and new. An officer approached the Audi and opened the passenger door.

“Is everything ready?” Liu asked as he stepped from the car, ignoring the soldier’s salute.

“Per your orders, sir.”

Liu nodded approval. “Have the prisoner brought inside.”

“Bring the prisoner out,” the officer ordered.

The small pass-through window between the transport’s cab and the rear compartment slid open, and the soldiers guarding Yin looked up expectantly. The bishop took no notice and continued his silent prayers.

“Out!” the driver barked through the opening.

The soldiers unlocked the section of chain connected to the floor bolt and lifted Yin to his feet. Two of them stepped out of the truck and assisted in lowering the manacled bishop to the ground. Yin glanced heavenward and saw only a handful of stars through the hazy glow of Beijing’s night sky.

After the remaining soldiers exited the transport, they escorted Yin into the backstage area of the theater. The air inside the building was stuffy and spiked with the stink of mold. Yin detected something else in the air—the pungent scent of sweat and fear.

Liu approached Yin. He towered over the bishop.

“Look at me,” Liu demanded.

Yin raised his head to look into Liu’s empty eyes.

“Is it true that this man you worship as a god likened himself to a shepherd and his followers to sheep who must be led?”


“So in this, he was much like Mao Zedong, no?”

“Jesus Christ was a good shepherd, the kind who would lay down his life for his flock. The same cannot be said of Mao.”

“Perhaps, but China has evolved during your time of confinement. Tonight, you have the opportunity to walk out of this building a free man and bishop of Shanghai.”

“And what price must I pay for the freedom you offer?” Yin asked flatly.

“Spoken like a Jesuit. The price is your cooperation. The government has no quarrel with your religion, only the foreign leadership of your church. Publicly renounce your allegiance to the Vatican and proclaim yourself a Chinese Catholic, and you will be free.”

“I am a Roman Catholic bishop. If I denounce the Holy Father, I would no longer be a bishop or a Catholic. You can cut off my head, but you can never take away my duties.”

“But what is a bishop without a flock?”

“I am the good shepherd,” Yin quoted, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

“I see. Are you not curious as to why I have brought you here?”

“You have already revealed your purpose. I can only assume that you have assembled an audience for my public declarations.”

“Indeed I have,” Liu said with trace of a smile. “Over five hundred of your sheep are in this theater, awaiting their shepherd. Their lives are in your hands.”

Yin turned his palms up. “My hands are empty. All life comes from God.”

Liu had to acknowledge a grudging respect for the strength of Yin’s resolve, but recalled the credo that understanding an adversary is one key to defeating him. He turned from Yin and motioned to the officer in charge. A moment later, a small group of soldiers brought a family of five backstage.

The patriarch of the family recognized Yin and immediately dropped to his knees.

“Your Grace,” the man said reverently before kissing Yin’s hand.

A soldier pistol-whipped the man before he could receive Yin’s blessing, sending him sprawling to the floor. The granddaughter, a girl no older than ten, pulled away from her parents’ arms and rushed to her grandfather’s aid. She, too, was brutally struck.

“Enough,” Liu commanded.

The soldier who had beaten the pair stepped back and holstered his pistol. The patriarch cradled his weeping granddaughter as oozing blood matted the girl’s long black hair.

“Kneel before your bishop, sheep,” Liu commanded.

The three adults still standing—a man with his wife and mother—knelt before Yin. As Liu walked behind the family, a soldier handed him a pistol, the barrel lengthened by a silencer. Without hesitation, Liu quickly executed three generations of a family of underground Catholics. Yin forced himself to keep his eyes open—to take in the horror and weep as he silently offered a prayer for the five martyrs.

Liu holstered his weapon and turned to Yin. “And I say your hands are full.”

“What is your name?” Yin asked softly, his eyes locked on the gory scene.

Liu studied the horrified bishop and sensed his point had been made. “Liu Shing-Li.”

“I will pray for you, Liu Shing-Li.”

“Better pray that you choose your words wisely tonight.”

Liu left Yin with the bodies of the slain family. From the stage, an amplified voice exhorted the audience to renounce the foreign Church of Rome and to practice their Christian faith with full government sanction as members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Yin ignored the droning propaganda and meditated on the teachings of Christ, wondering what Jesus would do in this situation.

Yin had no idea how much time had passed when Liu returned for him. The soldiers removed the bishop’s restraints and his extremities tingled with the sudden flow of blood. Unconsciously, Yin rubbed his wrists.

“It is time,” Liu said coldly.

As the soldiers led Yin to the edge of stage right, he heard his name announced to the audience. In the harsh white glow on stage, a smiling priest motioned for Yin to come out.

Yin took a single, tentative step and waited, but the soldiers beside him did not move. He quickly realized he was to enter the stage alone, since a quartet of armed guards would ruin the moment. Yin’s first steps out into the light were met with murmuring from the crowd.

The priest moved quickly to the side of the stage, bowed deeply, and kissed the bishop’s hand. All eyes were on Yin, and he felt the burden of the moment. Hundreds of souls were packed into the dilapidated theater—husbands and wives, children and elders—ordinary people who shared with Yin a bond of faith.

Lord, you know I am willing to die for my faith, Yin prayed, but can I ask the same of these innocent people? Is it a sin for me to act in a way that might result in their deaths?

The priest led Yin to a microphone at center stage. The murmuring gave way to a silence broken only by the brief wail of an infant. Yin looked out on the frightened, yearning faces. Some people crossed themselves, while others stood with hands folded in prayer, eyes fixed on a man who had disappeared into the laogai decades earlier. They were looking to him for something they could not name, for their spirits to be moved in a way they could not anticipate. Yin inhaled deeply and felt the Holy Spirit give him strength.

“Long live Christ the King!” Yin shouted, his voice erupting from the loudspeakers like thunder. “Long live the Pope!”

As one, the audience was on their feet.

“Long live Christ the King! Long live Bishop Yin!”

Over and over, the crowd repeated the chant, each cycle growing in strength and confidence. In Yin’s desperate moment, his faith and the faith of these people had brought forth the Holy Spirit. The government-sanctioned priests stood uncomfortably, for with two simple sentences, Yin had galvanized the audience in a way they could not hope to understand.

“Cut the power,” Liu ordered, recognizing the danger. “And get him out of here.”

The theater went dark as soldiers rushed Yin off the stage and out the back door, chaining the exit behind them.

“Seal the theater,” Liu ordered as the last of his soldiers exited.

“But, sir,” the officer in charge said, “what about the people from the CCPA?”

“They won no converts today. Burn it down!”

The order went out, and the soldiers quickly retreated to predetermined safe areas. The transport followed Liu’s car, then parked behind the Audi a short distance up the street. Liu sprang from his car and pounded angrily on the side of the transport.

“Bring him to me now!” Liu ordered.

The soldiers rushed Yin out of the transport, half-dragging the manacled bishop.

“You hypocritical piece of filth!” Liu shouted, looking down on Yin. “You have led your precious flock to their deaths.”

“I do not wish for them to die any more than I wish for my own death, but to live a life without faith, without hope, is a far more terrible thing.”

“What you did in there condemned those people.”

“What I did was ensure they understood the choice being offered them.”

Bright flashes erupted from several points inside the building as the pyrotechnicians detonated the incendiaries. As the fire grew in strength and began to roar, a second wave of sound rose from the doomed building—the sound of human voices.

“Do you hear them?” Liu shouted. “With their dying breaths, they curse you and your imaginary god.”

Yin ignored Liu’s ranting and listened to the distant voices. What he heard wasn’t screams but a familiar melody.

“They’re singing,” one soldier said incredulously.

“What?” Liu hissed.

From the raging fire, the song grew as those inside the building added their final breaths. Yin, humbled by the display of faith, added his voice to the chorus.

“Tu es Petrus et super hane petram aedificabo Ecclesiam mean.” Yin sang, though his heart heard the words: You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.

Liu punched Yin in the stomach to silence him. The bishop staggered back and fell but continued to sing.

“Return him to his hole in Chifeng,” Liu commanded.

As the transport pulled away, Liu pulled out his cell phone.

“Tian direct,” he said clearly.

The phone matched Liu’s voice command to a digital file and dialed the direct number for Tian Yi, the minister for state security. Tian answered quickly—he was expecting Liu’s call.

“Does Yin Daoming remain unbroken?” Tian asked as calmly as if inquiring about the weather.

“Yes,” Liu replied.

“I see.”

“You don’t seem surprised, Minister.”

Tian sighed. “Not at all.”

“He is a stubborn fool.”

“Yin is neither,” Tian said, “and it is a mistake to underestimate him. What about the fire?”

“It’s spreading to adjacent structures. I have been assured the entire block will be razed by morning.”

As Liu spoke, the theater roof collapsed, and the song inside was at last silenced.

“Good. Then the clearing of the district will get back on schedule.”

In preparation to host the Olympic Games, Beijing was undergoing a spate of urban renewal that rivaled London’s following the Great Fire of 1666. With a hard deadline and the nation’s international prestige at risk, Beijing was removing anything and anyone that detracted from the beauty and harmony of the Chinese capital.

“I should have been permitted to kill him,” Liu said.

“Yin has never feared the loss of his own life. It would have given you no leverage.”

“I wasn’t thinking about leverage.”

“Ah, but you forget that a live prisoner is far less trouble than a dead martyr.”

The officer in charge of the theater and the audience wore a concerned look as he briskly approached Liu. He stopped a few feet away and stood at ease, waiting for his presence to be acknowledged.

“A moment, Minister,” Liu said into the phone before covering the tiny microphone. “Yes, Captain?”

“Sir, our technicians have detected a brief transmission originating from the theater.”

“What kind of transmission?”

“Internet access from a cell phone, specifically a file upload.”

“Were my instructions on searching those people not explicit, Captain?” Liu asked.

“Your orders were clear, sir.”

“Yet someone still managed to smuggle a cell phone past your men. Were your technicians able to intercept this file?”

“No, but they are actively tracing the data packets to determine the intended recipient. The delays we have set on international e-mail traffic will allow us to trap the file before it can cross the border. If the destination is inside China, we will attempt to capture the file while it is still on an e-mail server, before it can be retrieved. We have since lost contact with the cell phone and it is presumed destroyed, but while the phone was still active, our technicians extracted all the information stored on its SIM card. That information should prove useful in the recovery operation.”

“Do your technicians know what was sent?”

“Based on a few captured packets, we believe it’s a video clip of what happened inside the theater.”

“Captain, this lapse in your security is inexcusable, but your failure to quickly contain that file could prove fatal. Keep me apprised of your progress.”

Dismissed, the captain nodded, turned on his heel, and strode away. Liu pressed the phone to his ear as the man moved out of earshot.

“Minister, I apologize for the interruption,” Liu said calmly, “but I have just been notified of an unfortunate development.”

Excerpted from The Secret Cardinal by Tom Grace. Copyright © 2007 by The KIlkenny Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.