Thursday, April 30, 2009

Welcome to our April newsletter

Easter in Shanghai

上海 Shanghai is the largest city in China in terms of population and one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, with over 20 million people. Located on China's central eastern coast at the mouth of the Yangtze River.

Originally a fishing and textiles town, Shanghai grew to importance in the 19th century due to its favorable port location and as one of the cities opened to foreign trade by the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. The city flourished as a center of commerce between east and west, and became a multinational hub of finance and business by the 1930s. However, Shanghai's prosperity was interrupted after the 1949 Communist takeover and the subsequent cessation of foreign investment. Economic reforms in 1990 resulted in intense development and financing in Shanghai, and in 2005 Shanghai became the world's busiest cargo port.

The city is an emerging tourist destination renowned for its historical landmarks such as the Bund and Xintiandi, its modern and ever-expanding Pudong skyline including the Oriental Pearl Tower, and its new reputation as a cosmopolitan center of culture and design. Today, Shanghai is the largest center of commerce and finance in mainland China, and has been described as the "showpiece" of the world's fastest-growing economy.

A view of Pudong skyline from Puxi

On Holy Saturday, April 9, Fr. José Ruiz Márquez and I, Alberto, arrived in Shanghai invited by the Latin American Catholics in that city. From the airport we went to the city, about 50 kms away… but only 15 minutes by train: the famous Maglev.

The Maglev, with a top speed of 431 km/h (268 mph).

MAGLEV, or magnetic levitation, is a system of transportation that suspends, guides and propels vehicles, predominantly trains, using levitation from a very large number of magnets for lift and propulsion. This method has the potential to be faster, quieter and smoother than wheeled mass transit systems. The technology has the potential to exceed 4,000 mph (6,437 km/h) if deployed in an evacuated tunnel. If not deployed in an evacuated tube the power needed for levitation is usually not a particularly large percentage and most of the power needed is used to overcome air drag, as with any other high speed train.
Our visit to Shanghai was not for tourism though. We went there to accompany the Catholic Spanish-speaking community to celebrate Easter with the liturgy in Spanish.

It is a unique experience as foreign priests cannot celebrate the Mass openly in China, but Shanghai is the showcase of China to the world and somehow our enterprising “Latinos” were able to get permission to celebrate an open Mass.

More than 100 participated in the celebration, mostly students and business people and their families.


Easter Vigil: celebration of the light.

Easter Vigil Mass: Fathers Márquez
Alberto concelebrating.

The following day, Easter Sunday,
we participated in an English Mass
with more than 1,000 in attendance.

Heart of Jesus Parish, Shanghai:
Easter Sunday Mass in English.

Catholic Books in Shanghai

There are three Catholic publishing houses in China. One of them is in Shanghai and on Easter Monday we met the Director, Fr. Anthony Chen Ruiqi, and the Editor, Fr. Tian Yuangxiang.
Here we are:

(L-R) Director Fr. Chen Ruiqi, Fr. Marquez,
Fr. Alberto, and Editor Fr. Tian Yuangxiang.

We immediately felt at ease with one another. Our mission in Catholic publishing is similar and we can help each other. We shared information about our respective work and spent some time brainstorming about possible projects for mutual collaboration.

One nice surprise was to find there an old friend: Teresa Xiao. We were in contact with her “last century” (!) in Beijing. When we presented the Chinese Bible to Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1998, Teresa was with us and was also able to meet the Holy Father. Afterwards, she stayed there and came back to China with a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University. As a lay person her contribution to the Church in China is very important. She even published religious books in the open market with great success… and now she will work with us too: Welcome Teresa!

(L-R) Alberto, Teresa Xiao
and José Ruiz Márquez in Shanghai

In the same publishing house we have our dear friend, Cecilia Tao Beiling. We have known Cecilia since the “last century” too. She is the chief editor of Guangqi Press and has translated into Chinese, among other books, “Catholicism” by Dennis McBride, that is published in Chinese in 8 volumes.

Her husband now works in the USA, her son has graduated in Australia… but she has decided to remain in China to be of service to the Church. A truly wonderful person!

Alberto with Cecilia Tao Beiling
at Guangqi Press, Shanghai

Shanghai Expo 2010

With a few hours before going to the airport to fly to Taiyuan, we decided to take a look at the beautiful city of Shanghai as we were curious to know a little more about the famous Expo 2010.
Expo 2010 will be held in Shanghai, China, and is a scheduled World Expo in the grand tradition of international fairs and expositions. The theme of the exposition will be "Better City – Better Life" and signifies Shanghai's new status in the 21st century as a major economic and cultural center. It is expected to generate the largest number of visitors in the history of world fairs in terms of gross numbers.

The Expo will take place from May 1 to October 31, 2010.

For the first time in history, the Shanghai 2010 Expo will feature a highly sophisticated online version called "Online Expo Shanghai."

Meanwhile we can share with you this short video and some pictures showing what the Fair will be:

Canada unveiled its national pavilion
design last January 22, 2008.

You can just imagine what that will be!
We drove through downtown
and saw hundred of huge crates for the construction
of the fair grounds and buildings – 24/7 Chinese style.

An abrupt change: Taiyuan

From Shanghai, Márquez and I went by plane to Taiyuan where we arrived after two and a half hours.

Taiyuan is the capital of Shanxi province and has a population of 3.5 million.

We have already mentioned this city in several of our previous newsletters. We go to this city often. We try to give a hand in the formation of religious women… doing whatever is possible.

More than 60 religious sisters attend a two-year intensive course on theology. They are so eager to learn… but the place is so congested… The sister in charge tells us that she received more than 200 applicants… and had to refuse them because there is no space… Sisters live in a very crowded place and with very limited facilities.

Here are some moments of the day – classes and prayer:

One day during our stay in Taiyuan, we went to Fenyang, a nearby town, 100 kms away to meet with the old bishop, Msgr. Johannes Huo. What a testimony! He is 86 years old and still in charge of one of the 8 dioceses of Shanxi province. After listening to us he said: “Don’t be afraid… always trust in God; you will find a way!”

Here is a man of God. He has suffered greatly in past decades when he could not exercise his ministry… so hospitable and a man of peace! We left empowered by his words and testimony.

Alberto with Bishop Johannes Huo and Sr. Clara

A dream…

What else can it be called? Take a look at this picture:

This is a hotel south of Taiyuan, Shanxi province. Newly built. The owners (who are Catholics) have to sell it and are offering it at a good reduced price, especially if it is for church use.

A group of very committed religious sisters are offering their services for a “Holistic Healing Center.” They would like to have a retreat house for priests, sisters, catechists, lay people; a center for the care of the poor: education, health. Perhaps also a language school.

Where do we get the funds?
That is the “million-dollar” question…

By the way, it is much less than “a million dollar.”

Any ideas?

1st International Claretian Encounter on Distance Education

It was held in Batatais, Brazil, at the beginning of April. Fr. Paco Carin,CMF attended the encounter and he tells us:

“The encounter was quite interesting, mostly, because it was the first one and it offered an opportunity for us to come together and share the different approaches and experiences on distance education in Claretian setting. Except for me, coming from East Asia, the rest of the participants were from South America, representing CEFIT (Argentina) ECCLA (Chile), FUCLA (Colombia) and the host, CLARETIANO of Batatais (Brazil).

“For us/me, East Asia, it was an eye-opener. Here in China, education is still a forbidden fruit in the government tree. Private institutions are allowed to start educational institutions (usually for the elite, as they are completely private), but the Church is not allowed to.

“For foreigners there is no such restriction, that’s why we hope we can start a high education center for foreigners in China, starting by first offering semester/year long immersion courses in China, moving to graduate and post-graduate (master/PhD) courses and finally to full college undergraduate studies.

“This encounter helped me to see the possibilities of distance education, and its complexity. Distance Education is not simply to publish/offer educational/academic contents in the Internet. Distance education requires a complete pedagogical/academic setup aimed at providing and facilitating education to students who experience obstacles more than “presencial” students, who can exclusively dedicate financial resources and time to this purpose.

“One way of make use of the benefits of distance education is to implement courses for lay, religious, and priests, for their initial and ongoing formation in Chinese. This setup can be done using the academic/faculty resources of already-existing educational institutions in Hong Kong and/or Taiwan. As long as we don’t expect these courses to be officially recognized in China, probably there would not be any problem in implementing them. Nevertheless, it will need a thorough study to see the pros and cons.

“The second way is the possibility of offering a course like a “Bridge Course in Theological English / Basic Theology Studies” in English… My experience in ICLA and in China and according to some priests and sisters who had studied abroad is that for many of them (mostly those who lacked/lack a strong foundation in English), most of the course contents were “lost in translation”…

“As we can see, this is not (and cannot) be a Claretian-alone enterprise, as we lack the manpower, educational knowhow, faculty resources and financial back up for such an enterprise. Nevertheless, we can try to be the catalyst to bring together many different and distant institutions toward a common goal: the betterment of the Chinese Catholic Church.”

Francisco Carin (second from left, front row)
with the participants to the
1st International Claretian Encounter
on Distance Education

Zhongshan City 中山市

Sunwen Road West at dusk

Zhongshan Prefecture in China

Zhongshan: Guangdong Province

Zhongshan is a city of numerous leafy parks, wide boulevards and various monuments and notable sights. It is very beautiful and very near our house in Zhuhai and Macau.

On Sunday, April 19, we visited the city, looking for the Catholic church. When we found it, we saw that it was under renovation and we were told that it will reopen on May 13.

Judging from their website, this local church is very active. You can take a look at:
Even if you do not know Chinese,
you can appreciate the huge work that they do.

Zhongshan Church

Our Zhuhai group in Zhongshan:
(L-R) Lydia from Singapore, Maria from China,
Maritsa from Colombia, and Alberto

“Marriage and the Family” – Hong Kong

Jojo has been in Hong Kong for more than a year now and he can speak Cantonese now… not yet like a native but fluent enough to feel “proud” and make others full of “envy.”

He arranged for our meeting with two lay persons in charge of the Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family: Mr. Kevin Lai, Executive Secretary, and Michael Tse, Family Pastoral Officer.

We shared ideas and projects and looked for ways to work together. One such project consists of the preparation of a well presented and printed booklet to be offered for free to the millions of Chinese tourists who visit Macau every year.

In the first three months of this year the number of tourists in this tiny place dropped 10% compared with that of last year… so we only had 5.5 million tourist from January to March 2009 (!!!)—remember that Macau has a population of half a million people. They come to Macau for gambling… and then to visit the historic city. They see many church buildings… but not the Church! One of the most important places attracting tourists is the Ruins of St. Paul.

The Ruins of St. Paul's refer to the façade of what was originally the Cathedral of St. Paul, a 17th century Portuguese cathedral in Macau dedicated to St. Paul the Apostle. Today, the ruins are one of Macau's most famous landmarks. In 2005, the Ruins of St. Paul were officially listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Centre of Macau.

Façade of the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Macau

The Ruins of Saint Pauls in the evening light

Close up
Behind the façade are remains
of the original pillars and a shrine

The idea is to present Christianity from “below”: starting, for example, with this Ruins of St. Paul and explain what the building represents, who St. Paul is, Jesus, who the Christians are…

Mr. Kevin Lai, Executive Secretary,
and Michael Tse with Alberto

An Easter Picnic in Shenzhen, the city bordering Hong Kong

Shenzhen is situated immediately north of Hong Kong. Owing to China's economic liberalization under the policies of reformist leader Deng Xiaoping, the area became China's first—and ultimately most successful—Special Economic Zone.

Shenzhen's novel and modern cityscape is the result of the vibrant economy made possible by rapid foreign investment since the late 1970s, when it was a small fishing village. Since then, foreign nationals have invested more than US$30 billion for building factories and forming joint ventures. It is now reputedly one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Being southern China's major financial center, Shenzhen is home to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange as well as the headquarters of numerous high-tech companies. Shenzhen is also the second busiest port in mainland China, second only to Shanghai.

A night view of Shenzhen

It was twelve years ago when I visited Shenzhen with Fr. Bernardo Hurault. We looked for a Catholic church on a Sunday and were directed towards the outskirts of the city. There, in an old and dilapidated school building the Christian community gathered for their Sunday Mass. Times have changed. Now Shenzhen has three beautiful Catholic churches.

A couple of weeks ago, Fr. Jojo, with the Maryknoll priests of Christ the Worker parish in Hong Kong and a group of Catholics, visited the Catholic churches.

Shenzhen Church

A group of Catholics from Hong Kong
went across the border to visit Catholics in Shenzhen

Jojo shares this with us:

On 18 April, 42 of us, including three priests and two deacons, went to Shenzhen, one of the famous cities in China. We had the opportunity to visit the three churches in that city. The aim of our visit was to exchange Easter joy, peace and love with our brothers and sisters in mainland China. And we had the satisfaction and joy of achieving what we intended to do. In all three places we had lot of dialogue and exchange of ideas and faith experiences with the priests and the people. We also shared our personal experiences and ideas about our Christian faith, which really enriched the faith of everyone. It is a great joy for us to see the growth in faith of our brothers and sisters in China. One of the faithful said that our Christian life is to be lived in relationship with Jesus and in communion with other Christians in the world.

Personally, I feel so happy to see the way the Church in China is growing in all aspects in spite of the many difficulties, problems and struggles. God has a plan for this promised land and he will fulfill it according to his will. Let us unite to spread the good news of love, peace and joy wherever we are and may the Risen Christ give us the courage and strength to do it. In this season of peace and joy let us remember our brothers and sisters in China and pray for them.

In the footsteps of Claret

We all need to connect with our roots. We treasure our family origins; we remember our ancestors with respect and gratitude… This is also true of our religious mentors.

St. Anthony M. Claret, the founder of the Claretian Missionaries, lived in 19th century Spain and in Cuba. We, the Claretian missionaries, inherited his missionary spirit. To keep that spirit alive we need to connect with our religious roots. A group of 17 English-speaking Claretians from different parts of the world are participating these days in an intensive seminar in Spain, following the footsteps of Claret: following “physically” and spiritually. A member of our China Mission team, is the chronicler for the group and sends his notes every day. We copy at random:

Chapel of Our Lady of Fussimanya:
English-speaking Claretians
attending the Encounter with Claret.

Today Fr. Jesu Doss of the Center of Claretian Spirituality led the discussion, which highlighted some important points both in the life of Claret and of the participants as Claretians: the tension between charism and institution, the challenge of being evangelizing and evangelized, awareness and sensitivity to the particular reality of the different countries and continents, the tension between being Claretian priests working in the diocese and at the same time being religious living in a Claretian fraternity, the lack of a specifically non-clerical religious formation for Claretian brothers, who according to Fr. Jesu have a greater opportunity to live our “Claretian-ness.” At 6:30 pm, to conclude the session, Fr. Jesu asked the participants to share their impression of the Encounter so far, and the brothers agreed that initially they were expecting that these days would only be about past history, but the Encounter has so far brought them to the present, to see Claret very much alive today.

- - - - - - - -

Another day:
Fr. Gonzalo Fernandez CMF was the main celebrant in the mass this morning and in his homily, he talked about the changing face of the congregation in the past 30 to 40 years. He reiterated the fact that it is still the same Claretian congregation, but which has now fulfilled Claret’s desire for his spirit to be for the whole world. He also reminded the brothers of the aim of the Encounter with Claret, which is to know, enjoy and deepen our Claretian identity, not as a congregation of priests, but of missionaries, nourished by the Word of God as servants of the Word and united in the Eucharist as one community.

Some birthday celebrants and visitors

On April 29 we gathered in our house
to celebrate several birthdays:
Divine de Leon on May 9
(forth from left…not counting the baby!),
Fr. John Ledesma SDB on May 6 (in red),
and Alberto on April 29.

Fr. Ledesma is a Salesian missionary who has been very close to our community. We treasure his presence whenever he is in Macau or Beijing. He is a biblical scholar and a much-sought-after resource person for retreats and seminars of religious, priests and bishops. He is now studying Chinese so he can teach the seminarians in Chinese… Wow! Chapeaux!

Recently, through contacts with his friends he channeled a substantial donation for our Parish Library project. Many Catholics in rural areas across China will benefit from the books in their parish libraries for their Christian formation. In their name we say, “THANK YOU!”


May the apostles be friends!

Sharing life, projects, dreams…
and a moment of fraternity with some of the missionaries
connected with the mission of the Church in China.

From left: Fr. Víctor Mejia, Comboni missionary
from Costa Rica

Fr. Jose Ruiz Marquez, Claretian working in ICLA, Manila;
Fr. Victor Aguilar, Comboni missionary from Mexico;
Fr. John Ledesma, Salesian missionary;

On a lighter note

Well, not so light…
So if you think that you have a heavy burden in life… think again!