Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The People who Stole our Hearts

Fr. Mario Bonfaini, a Claretian working in Taiwan, has been accompanying the Huangshan Christian community for the last 10 years. This time he invited our Macau community, Peter, Jojo and Alberto, to join him in celebrating Christmas with the community of Huangzhan. We gladly accepted but never imagined that those simple people could give us so much…

Two hours by plane from Macau/Zhuhai to Shanghai and the same day 12 hours by train and we were in this former Claretian territory in the heart of China.

Many years of suffering and even prison for some of them did not quench their faith. Now a new generation of Christians continues to give witness by the testimony of their lives.

Take Nicolas, for example: A doctor formed in the school of our famous Claretian doctor Bro. José Torres, he spent 30 years in prison together with many of his companions. Now at 79 years of age, he continues his work in the church with contagious joy and good humor. He greeted us in perfect Spanish… and he knows English too.

He showed us a handwritten book asking us to write a message in it. It was the Gospel of John, written in Spanish! He told us that he reads it often… Just to think that today is so easy to own a Bible, even in China… these old people had to write their own!

The parish is very poor. Dr. Nicolas asked for a black board to be placed in one of the walls and there he writes his messages.

A Christmas message written by Dr. Nicolas.

The Christian community came in full to welcome us as you can appreciate in the above picture.

And we celebrated the Christmas Mass. What devotion and enthusiasm these people showed! The celebration included two adult baptisms. Their Christian names: Ines and Maria. Maria, the mother of a 7 year old son, showered us with her presence, gifts and tears when we left, as did many of them….

The few old people who had known our former missionaries gathered to tell their stories. There are few of them left, they are old and weak, but they were so happy to share with us their memories, their lives and experiences…

Fr. Peter Chao listens to the stories of these old people who were first introduced to our Christian faith by the missionaries more than 60 years ago.

Poor… very poor materially – but so full of joy! This is the case of this peasant who invited us to go and bless his house. Fr. Peter Chao and the Parish priest, Fr. Thomas Liu are blessing the house. This exemplary young priest accompanied us all the time. He has to take care of 13 parish stations scattered in a big region.

In Huangshan we have also established one of our Parish Libraries and Sr. Lucia, who is the one who takes care of the church in Huangshan, is in charge.

One day of our visit we went to a neighbor town, Shexian, about 30 kilometers from Huangshan and also a place attended by our Claretian missionaries in years past.

Another Claretian Enclave: SHEXIAN

Once again, a word about the place:

Surrounded by green mountains and crystal water, the ancient city in Shexian County is rich in cultural relics, residences, a memorial temple, and memorial arches. The county is an art museum of classical architecture.

Shexian County, situated at the foot of Mt. Huangshan, is reputed as 'the Town of Arches'. More than 250 arches constructed in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties are scattered around the county.

Archway is known as 'Paifang' or 'Pailou' in Chinese. Paifang was a unique architectural form in ancient China.

Paifang is a unique architectural form and a reflection of traditional Chinese culture. Shexian was blessed with many archways, hence 'the Town of Arches’.

In the heart of this ancient city there is the remnant of another church serviced by Claretians in 1940’s. Now is in ruins. Several families are living inside the former church. How we wish we could restore it! For that we believe that only the Chinese Historical Conservation Society could convince the local government to have the political will to do it.

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