On Feb. 22, 2024, the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., was gifted a drawing created by pro-democracy activist and political prisoner, Jimmy Lai. 

In a press release from Catholic News Agency, Lai’s friends and CUA parents, Bill and Julie McGurn, donated the drawing from Lai, a Hong Konger who has been in solitary confinement for close to 1,500 days in a Chinese prison.

Lai's drawing, on what appears to be lined paper, depicts Christ’s crucifixion surrounded by eight orange flowers.

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Jimmy Lai's drawing of the crucified Christ, Image courtesy of Catholic University of America

Bill McGurn, an outspoken opinion columnist and editorial board member at the Wall Street Journal, became Lai’s sponsor when he officially joined the Catholic Church. Bill and his wife, Julie McGurn, came to know and become friends with Lai during their time in Hong Kong.

The relationship between Lai and CUA is not to be underestimated. In 2022, Lai was awarded an honorary degree from the university, which was accepted by his son, Sebastien.

CUA clergy has also been vocal in expressing support for Lai’s freedom.

Father Robert Sirico of CUA is producing a documentary on Jimmy Lai entitled, "The Hong Konger,” and gave an address at the installation. 

Lai’s artwork was blessed by CUA chaplain Father Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., and it will remain on permanent display by the St. Michael the Archangel Chapel in Catholic University’s Busch School of Business. 

“Through his art, Jimmy is speaking from prison. Julie and I donated this image to Catholic University because he would regard this University as the perfect spot for it,” Bill McGurn said.

Jimmy Lai, a Catholic convert, newspaper owner, businessman, media mogul, and all-around billionaire, was arrested and charged with political crimes in 2020 under China’s National Security Law.

However, unmistakably, his real offense is publishing the truth that criticized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its control in Hong Kong. Perhaps this reminds you of another similar story–that of Cardinal Joseph Zen. 

Mark Simon, a friend, former senior executive of Next Digital, and managing editor of Lai’s holding company, shared his commentary with the National Catholic Register in late December of 2023.

“Mr. Lai is great friends with Cardinal Joseph Zen, a favorite of neither Beijing nor the Vatican," Simon stated. "It was Cardinal Zen who brought Jimmy, a convert, into the Church in 1997, and it is Cardinal Zen to this day who visits him in prison when allowed and attends his trial. 

"Both were born in China. Both saw the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. Both were persecuted by the communists, and both worked tirelessly in defense of democratic rights.” 

“It would be remiss not to mention Jimmy’s wife, Teresa, a rock of faith who originally introduced Jimmy to Catholicism, raised their children in the Church, and kept a home where God was a constant force," Simon continued.

"As the protests in Hong Kong picked up, as it became clearer that he would not be leaving Hong Kong, he became much more open that if this was the path that God had chosen for him, he was content to walk it."

"It is in his walk of faith that I think we find the true Jimmy Lai," Simon explains. "Cardinal Zen says Jimmy is so advanced in his religious studies that he, Cardinal Zen, must read up to answer Jimmy’s questions.

"His religious drawings from jail are simply incredible when you consider they give him lined paper and cheap pencils to work with.

"They were good enough for the Hong Kong Police to ban them from being sent out, as they were seen as drawing attention to him. In his time of struggle, Jimmy is growing in his faith, not questioning it.” 

Unfortunately, Jimmy Lai’s imprisonment is not unique. Despite his innocence, Armando Valladares, a Cuban poet and diplomat, became a political prisoner in 1960 at the age of 23.

Valladares was an employee of the Office of the Ministry of Communications for the Revolutionary Government and a staunch supporter of the Castro regime. However, in an act of defiance, he refused to put a plaque on his desk that stated “I’m with Fidel." He was then arrested on a terrorism charge without due process. He spent 22 years in Castro’s gulag being beaten, brutally tortured, and starved.

Valladares went on several hunger strikes in solitary confinement, with a notable 49-day hunger strike in 1974 that ended with him using a wheelchair from polyneuritis.

Valladares believed and famously stated, “Poetry is a weapon,” and began writing poetry and painting pictures – all of which led to international attention.

In a 2016 interview with the National Catholic Register, Valladares stated, “My faith was what kept me alive all of those 22 years in Castro's prisons."

“I didn't hate. I knew enough about my Faith that it didn't teach hatred. And so, I did not hate Castro or those who tortured me. Not even a single atom of hatred in my heart for them,” Valladares said. “Instead, I prayed for them as there was otherwise very little hope left for them. When you sell your soul, what else do you have left?”

“My faith sustained me because I had nothing. Literally nothing there in the dark, naked, starved, and beaten. I had my mind, my heart, and my Faith in God and His Church. Nothing else,” he said.

Armando Valladares, Jimmy Lai, and Cardinal Joseph Zen all provide an extraordinary example of total surrender in faith. However, we cannot merely be readers of their stories. We must not be blind to the reason behind their unjust imprisonment; we have the utmost duty to speak boldly in opposition to such brutality and inhumanity.

In his 1937 Encyclical, Divini Redemptoris, Pope Pius XI warned the public of the deceit of communism and what it entails. He gave a collective call for Catholics to reject such ideas of false justice. 

“Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever…” 

Through the intellect and grace of the Catholic Church, the popes have provided multiple documents that explicitly condemn communism, including Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, "Rerum Novarum," Pope Paul VI's apostolic letter, "Octogesima Adveniens," Pope Pius IX's encyclical "Nostis Et Nobiscum," Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, "Humanum Genus," and Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, "Quod Apostolici Muneris," alongside many others. 

Let us pray for Jimmy Lai and all political prisoners. Let us also pray for those who imprison them and for an end to these horrific regimes. 

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