Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Welcome to our March blog with news from the Claretian China Mission team.

Lantern Festival – February 28, 2010

Enjoying lanterns under the full moon

The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, usually in February or March on the Gregorian calendar. This year was on February 28.

As early as the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25), it had become a festival with great significance.

This day's important activity is watching lanterns. Throughout the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), Buddhism flourished in China. One emperor heard that Buddhist monks would watch sarira, or remains from the cremation of Buddha's body, and light lanterns to worship Buddha on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, so he ordered lanterns to be lit in the imperial palace and temples to show respect to Buddha on this day. Later, the Buddhist rite developed into a grand festival among all citizens and its influence expanded from the Central Plains to the whole of China.

In modern times, the lantern festival is still held each year around the country. Lanterns of various shapes and sizes are hung in the streets, attracting countless visitors. Children will hold self-made or bought lanterns to stroll with on the streets, extremely excited.


Lantern riddles during Lantern Festival

An international student from India tries to work out
a lantern riddle in Tianjin February 25, 2010.
Riddle solving is beloved by Chinese during the festival.

Local residents read lantern riddles in Shichahai
of Beijing February 25, 2010.

New recruits of Hebei frontier force guess
lantern riddles February 25, 2010.

A traffic policeman helps a pupil with a
lantern riddle in Xi'an of Shaanxi province.

Chinese youth give witness of their faith:

We are in the heart of China. Outside a chilly minus 10 degrees but our hearts are burning. A group of about 200 young people, most of them workers and peasants, Catholics all of them, are waiting for the arrival of a youth team who are coming to share with them their faith experience. They are housing with very simple accommodation with local villagers.

This event took place from February 8 to 12, 2010. I shall let Susan tell you the story. She is a young woman, who received baptism just a few years back and together with other youth bring their faith experience around, especially in the poorest places in China.

But first, let me tell you about the place. It is near Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province.

Here is the China map and Hebei province:
Hebei is highlighted on this map
In red, Hebei province.

Let’s practice a Little Chinese:
The name: Hebei: 河 hé - (Yellow) River 北 běi – north
The name Hebei means "north of the (Yellow) River".
Hebei completely surrounds Beijing and Tianjin municipalities
(which also border each other).
It has 187,700 square kilometers and over 70 million people.

And a little history of the place: Plains in Hebei were the home of Peking man, a group of Homo erectus that lived in the area around 200,000 to 700,000 years ago. Neolithic findings at the prehistoric Beifudi site date back to 7000 and 8000 BCE.

Back to 2010: Chinese New Year was on February 14 and it lasts for two weeks, precisely closing with the Lantern Festival on February 28. During these festivities millions of Chinese migrant workers go back to their families. This is the most important feast in China and family gathering is the center of the festivities. It is estimated that this year more than 150 million migrant workers returned to their families.
Beijing central train station

So, why a meeting during the coldest of days? It is because Catholic workers scattered in China return to their families during these days. It is to one of these places where our young missionary team goes.

So, let Susan share her experience:

We went to meet the young people carrying our suitcases, cameras, guitar, tambourine, laptop, prayer cards, medals , banners of the saints, notes of the teachings, games, songs, and the statue of Our Lady whom we were under her guidance and protection.
Group Discussion: How to Apply God's Word
This time we helped a parish to organize retreat for ~200 working youth. Most of them aged from 16-22, traditional Catholics of at least 3rd generations, grown in villages, quitting from school even not yet finished secondary education, working in factories or as drivers, back home for holiday once a year, their parents are farmers and spending their lives in the fields.

The climate was cold and going to snow. The youth seems used to the cold weather (obviously we were not!). They were happy to meet us, carrying their own big bags on their back, which were the blankets and mattress for them to stay (sleeping on the floor) in host families during the retreat. They were a bit shy at first but full of energy and learning fast. They enjoyed all the songs, games and dances liked any young people around the world. To our surprise, they automatically led the morning and evening prayers and the Rosary. We believed that prayer was one of the main support and consolation of the Chinese Catholic during difficult years, and also a very firm tradition the parents or grandparents passed to their children.

We share with them the common topics in any retreat: the meaning of life, relationship with Jesus, love of God, confession, prayer, Eucharist, Word of God, sacrifices, consecration to Mary, and life plan. These similar topics we already talked to the other group of ~200 secondary school and university students last summer but with more information from the Church documents. However the time they could learn most was during Eucharistic Adoration every night. The youth were arranged in groups to take part in all night adoration during the retreat, only in quiet time with an open heart, may the youth personally encountered the living Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist.

They were brave and willing to accept challenges, even to wake up in the middle of the night and walking in snow to the Church to accompany Jesus for hours. It was that love and perseverance that keep their simple faith in this world of new ideas and temptations. They were so familiar with the answers of the Catechist handbook but need power and support to work it out in their own lives and positions. They were longing for growth of spirituality that they can response to the difficulties in their lives among the pagans and materialistic society.

So it was they evangelizing us, showing us the power of the Gospel which could not be restrained. We saw a boy giving his own testimony on how he once a non-believer, paralyzed, but God did him a healing miracle and bring him to faith, to normal life and recovered his family. What we did was sharing with them our ways of practicing faith, even our weakness, but we were walking hand in hand with them in the road of salvation.

Of course we could not forget the elders of the Church, they were the heroes behind the screen. Effectively arranged everything we need: registration of the youth, meal and accommodation, transportation of the youth from villages to villages, electricity … etc. Cooking for 200 people in outdoor environment and in snow was not a simple and funny task. When we arrived at the church at 6:45am for morning prayer, they already well prepared the bread and hot soup for breakfast outside the church. Chinese especially the older generation expressed their deep love in action and seldom by words. They were ready to sacrifice, humble, and open to new things; they also knew the importance of youth formation and their limitation. Although they only kept on saying thanks to us, we knew they were so happy from their big smile during the teaching and their participation of songs, games and liturgy.
China Celebrates Christmas

With the youth, we could not avoid this topic: Evangelization. They witnessed their faith when people saw the cross they wore, when they prayed, and whenever people discriminated them just because they were Catholic and acted in different ways. These were chances of evangelization. Because the priest encouraged and prepared the people to evangelize, the parish was alive and growing fast. Their priest advised them not to hide but to let other knew their Catholic identity and claimed free from work on Sunday for Holy Mass. Another priest encouraged the young people to serve God and consider the option for the priesthood; he preached with fire and really touched their hearts. It was big grace from God that these gifted and brave priests serving in that area.

We only spent few days with the youth, and the whole program was just sowing, God would let the seed grow. We asked the young people to form simple prayer groups under the guidance of the priests; and the priests agreed to organize them to serve in the church and outside of the church. We would use QQ (like MSN) to keep in touch and share any information.

Praying and singing in such icy air was amazing, we could see our words and songs ascending to heaven. And at the same time, the snow continuing falling from on high as mercy and graces of God to the people He deeply loved.

Demand for Bible outstripping supply in China

The Bible Society has reported a growing demand for copies of the Bible in China where an estimated 500,000 people converted to Christianity in 2009 alone.

Although some four million Bibles were printed and distributed across China last year, the rapid growth of the church year on year means that demand for Bibles is now outstripping supply, according to the Bible Society.

The official number of Christians in China stands at 28.6 million, but it is
believed the true figure could be as high as 90 million if the estimated number
of worshippers at unofficial house churches is included.

The UK-based Bible Society subsidizes the cost of printing Bibles to keep the cost below £2 a copy, vital for Christians living in China’s rural heartland, where 70 per cent of churchgoers are found and half the population live on less than $2 a day.

The Bibles are printed at the state-owned Amity Printing Company, which has printed around 70 million Bibles since it was established in 1987. Around 50 million of them have gone to Chinese believers.

“As more and more people are joining the Church they are asking for a Bible,” says Bible Society’s China Partnership Co-ordinator Kua Wee Seng.

“Every year we have to raise funds for Bible subsidy. The reason is that in the rural areas where most Christians are found, they are living in relatively poor conditions. In order for them to have a copy of the Bible we have to provide paper so that a Bible is affordable for most of the Christians in China.

“This is a time of opportunity in China. Many of us feel that we mustn’t miss this opportunity or people will turn to something else, other than Christianity.”

Meanwhile, our Chinese Pastoral Bible is also being distributed in Mainland. In coming months we will publish the Bible with Lectio Divina. The Chinese name will be: “Reading the Bible with the help of the Lord”. The books of the gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, with Lectio Divina, are ready for the press.

A stop on the road…

The Claretian missionaries working in China made a stop for a few days to reflect on our missionary identity in the context of our mission in China.

Our retreat master was Claretian Fr. Jesu Doss. He invited us to go back to our foundational roots and identity as Claretian missionaries and to incarnate today the zeal of our founder St. Anthony M. Claret as “Men on fire with God’s love”.

Before the retreat we invited Fr. Jesu Doss (third from right)
to visit our “Barbastro House” in Zhuhai (China).
Here we are after the Sunday celebration
in our small chapel with a group of friends.

Why ever not!?
This is one way to present the Claretians in China!

Here you have us: The Claretian China Mission Team during our retreat.

The representatives of the Holy See
(Taiwan and Hong Kong)
graced us with their presence and shared
about the present situation of the China
– Vatican relationship.

And the planning time came.
Our coordinator,
Fr. Paco,
invited us to look into the future.

Unbelievable Chinese acrobatics on a bicycle: