The Southern Cross : July 2012
July 2012 Page 13 www.thesoutherncross.org.au The Southern Cross feature | It was the most disgraceful act -- locked up and then brutally and systematically raped over 12 weeks by the Japanese military during World War II. And yet for Jan Ruff O'Herne it was also a time of saving grace. "When I think back to those horrible moments in World War II when I was terribly abused, it was God's grace that gave me the strength to move through that suffering," she says. Jan is one of 114 women and men chosen by their Adelaide parishes as ambassadors for the Year of Grace -- an initiative of the Australian Catholic Bishops to renew the nation's faith in Jesus. "This Year of Grace makes us look back at what I call the 'God moments' of our lives," says Jan, 89. "And there are so many moments that we should really stand still and recognise them." Jan had just turned 21 years old when she was forced from a prison camp in 1942 with nine other young women to a Japanese military brothel in Java. They were known as "comfort women" and numbered in their thousands across the Japanese occupied territory of China, Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines. "I used to fight every Japanese that ever tried to rape me -- I felt almost as if it was a mortal sin if I didn't fight." So beaten and abused, Jan was physically scarred and required surgery before she could successfully carry her first daughter to full term. "When I think back, I wonder where did that strength come from. I don't know how I survived. It was for the grace of God." Jan vividly recalls the opening night of the brothel and how the women clambered around each other for support. Armed with a Dutch Bible and rosary beads she smuggled from the camp before being hoarded to the comfort house, Jan led the young women in prayer. "We were so frightened and shaking and I opened the Bible and it just fell open to the Romans, chapter 8:35-39," says Jan. "That little Bible was so much strength for us." She was delivered, she says, another saving grace -- her husband Tom -- a British soldier among the allied troops sent to Indonesia to protect those camp prisoners under attack from Indonesian freedom fighters. They married in 1946 in England and had daughters Eileen and Carol before immigrating to Adelaide in 1960. "Isn't it so amazing how God's grace works in every facet of yourlife--asawife,asaparentanda grandparent?" In 1965 they bought a home within 20 metres of Our Lady of Dolours Church at Kingswood: "I rang the agent straight away because I just had to have this house: it was so near the Church." But in 1975, Tom was run over by a car and suffered severe brain damage. For the next 20 years Jan was Tom's full-time carer until he passed away in 1995. "It was so hard at times," she says. "But life's not meant to be easy." Almost every day, Jan visits her church for prayer. "The Church has been a source of great grace for me," she says. "It is where moments of grace happen in our lives." As an ambassador, she believes God's grace can best be recognised through prayer and the sacraments. "They are the greatest source of grace because you are closer to God," she says. Jan is planning to start a regular rosary group at her parish, and will investigate introducing the Benediction and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the possibility of opening up the church more frequently for visitations. She says every family and parent should be praying with their children at home the Year of Grace prayer. "We have to respond to grace, not take it for granted," says Jan. And we need to be more aware of those "God moments", she says. Last month, Jan was graced by an unexpected God moment. Praying in the Church, Jan was joined by a woman she had not seen before. The woman sat near Jan and as the woman prayed, she began to cry. "I didn't ask her why she was crying but I held her hand and asked her if she wanted to pray the Our Father together," says Jan. "Looking back, it was a real moment of grace," she says. "Grace entered our lives right at that moment." For more information on the Year of Grace visit www.yearofgrace.org.au. FINDING GRACE: Year of Grace Ambassador Jan Ruff O'Herne clings to her mother's old Bible, which she says helped her through her time as a sex slave in a Japanese military brothel in Java. Main picture (left): Jan at 19 years of age and below Jan is pictured with her husband Tom. Pictured far below is Jan's mother's Bible. Defining God's love It is not often that the Bishops of Australia take such a step as declaring a special Year. Why this time? What does the word "grace" mean? The word 'grace' is used throughout Scripture, and especially by St Paul who employs the word more than 100 times. There are books and articles galore written about it by learned theologians. A definition that makes sense to me is the fairly simple one, "God's love moving and working within us". In St John's gospel Jesus says that He and the Father will come and abide within us. The indwelling of God in His creatures is what was meant by the term 'sanctifying grace'. Think of the wonder of it! We have the presence of God within us, when our hearts are not clouded by sin. When we pray that we might have the grace to endure something, or live a vow properly, or whatever, it is a way of praying that the love of God within us will strengthen us and move us to live our life in that proper way. For the Church in Australia then, the Year of Grace means a prayer that the love of God will work within and move greatly the hearts of all in our Church. Move us back to Christ, move us to opening our hearts again to receive Him and know Him, and live His love as church. It is a type of year's retreat for the Church. This is an excerpt from an article by the Bishop of Port Pirie, Greg O'Kelly SJ. Click here to view the full article.