Friday, February 16, 2007

A Week in Shandong

At the end of January Sid went on a trip to Shandong:

Shandong Province is situated in the eastern part of China. It overlooks the Korean Peninsula and the Japan Archipelago across a vast stretch of sea. The province has a total area of 156,000 square kilometers (about 60,235 square miles) and a total population of over 90 million. Shandong, with a history of more than 5,000 years, is considered one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilization.

Shandong's provincial capital is one of China's most famous historical and cultural cities. It has numerous natural springs, hence its name 'Spring City'.
Jinan, Shandong's provincial capital is one of China's most famous historical and cultural cities. It has numerous natural springs, hence its name 'Spring City'.

On January 30 (Tuesday), I went to visit Francis and his family in a village some four hours by bus from Jinan, the capital city of Shandong. Francis is one of my students of English at the National Seminary; I stayed with him for four days where I enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of his family. There is a 100-year-old church in his village, with more than 300 Catholics. The priest, who lives in another town, goes there twice a week to celebrate Mass, in time also for the market day. Houses also do not usually have a bathroom; people go to a nearby factory to take a bath for RMB 1 per person (US$0.12).

From there, I went to Qingzhou (which took 7 hours by bus), where I stayed in the bishop’s house until February 7. The Diocese of Qingzhou has a 96-year-old bishop, 8 priests (2 are sick and 6 actively working in the ministry), 5 seminarians, 9 sisters, and about 10,000 Catholics. Most of the priests and sisters come from one town, which has more Catholics than the city of Qingzhou. The cathedral is in a district where there are more Muslims than Christians, so only a few come to church for the Mass.

During my stay there, I facilitated a seminar on Bible for the sisters and the seminarians, who came for their spring holiday. For the Mass, everyone has a copy of the Chinese Pastoral Bible, from where they read the readings orally before the Mass. Priests, seminarians, sisters and church personnel also celebrate morning and prayer together. The church and the residence are very clean, and one feels at atmosphere of true community and happiness there.

People live a simple life in China, and most of them are poor, but they are rich in their hospitality and concern for others. The Church is only a minority in China, but there is a strong sense of community and belongingness among the believers. And there are still vocations to the priesthood or to the religious life though this situation may change after some time, especially with the implementation of the “one family, one child” policy of the government. But I have also met a number of seminarians, who are their parents’ only son, if not their only child.

China: The City and the Rural Areas - the gap is HUGE!

But whether in the city, with its booming economy and well-lit evenings, or in the village, with the people’s very simple life and cold nights without heating, the Chinese Catholics form a community, where fellow believers feel a sense of belongingness as sisters and brothers.

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