Tuesday, October 01, 2013

CJ, the missionary novice in China

Last month we began to tell you the story of this young Chinese missionary. Here is the second part written by his formator, Brother Sid Ching :
Part - 2

“Do you want to become a priest?”

After a year my rector asked me, “Would you want to go to the major seminary?”
“Yes!” I said.
“Why?” the rector asked me again.
“Because I feel happy!”
Yes, it is true that in the seminary I was really very happy though I did not feel free sometimes because of the rules, and I had to change a lot of things in myself. But I did not really want those things because they could not satisfy me.
Yes, in the seminary I could not get anything from outside, but I really felt that my heart was so happy there because of God—he was in charge of everything, and heaven and earth belong to him. During that year, little by little, I was able to adjust to the schedule, the rules and the way of life, and I really found it. That is why I said, “Yes!”
— My Vocation Story, 10 June 2009
Paco, another Claretian brother and I went to Beijing on 28 August 2006. I knew that that day was the feast of St. Augustine, and it would take me seven years to realize the connection St. Augustine would have with our mission in China. We were originally three, but after three months the brother from Chile asked to leave China. It was during our first month in the university that I met Jiawei, a college senior, who would be baptized Catholic on Easter 2007; he asked me to be his godfather. Francis would later meet Jiawei first in the same university in March 2008, and then in Shanghai in November of that same year.

We lived in the international students’ quarters for about a month before moving to our own apartment off campus. From there, I went to the seminary every weekend and taught the seminarians English. The seminary dean initially offered that I live in the seminary, so I could spend more time with the students since it took me two hours to go there by bus. I gratefully declined his invitation, saying that it was important for us, Claretians, to live in community. The seminary later invited Paco as well to teach Church history.

In the summer of 2007, Paco went to Spain for his home holiday, then, to the Philippines in November to teach at the Institute of Consecrated Life for Asia (ICLA) until 9 January 2008. I had summer class in MATESOL in the US that same year, and in October-November some practicum activities in Macau also for MATESOL. Because of our schedule outside China and so that I would not live alone, we decided not to renew the contract for our apartment, and move to the seminary. We made the necessary arrangements with the rector, and in June before I left for the US, we moved our things to the seminary, and on my return from the US on 6 August, I went directly to the seminary.

The new academic year began in September 2007. I taught English to the theology and pre-theology students. We were informed that another group of seminarians was coming in October, who they said would form part of the local Benedictine congregation they were planning to found. So it happened that we were living in the seminary when Francis and his classmates came to begin their spirituality year.

After that, I went to the Beijing National Seminary, which is really a beautiful place. In the beginning, I was really happy to live there. I used to think that I was so lucky because all my classmates went to other major seminaries, but only me was there.
— My Vocation Story, 10 June 2009
I remember this little boy as he entered the National Seminary in Beijing in 2007. At that time I was also studying theology there. I remember him as a bit shorter than me, with clear brows and bright eyes, a charming lad. He was joyous and active. And he desired to love God. Although we weren’t close friends, we got along well with each other. We had the same passion—English. We had the same teacher—Sid. In Sid’s eyes, we were both good students. With Sid, we have developed excellent teacher-student relationship and friendship.
— Peter Wu Hongjun, Gao Guangqiang as I Know Him, 24 July 2013

I taught them English, but I intentionally avoided talking about the Claretian vocation, much less encouraging anyone to join the congregation. It was clear to me that our work there was to help form the local seminarians to become good priests in the future for their respective dioceses. But since they knew that they were being prepared for a religious way of life, they began to ask me questions about the Claretian congregation. Some of them said that they did not have the vocation to become Benedictines, or follow a more rigid way of life, but they could not decide to leave for fear that once they left, no other dioceses would accept them.
On 30 November, Huang Wendong came to the seminary to visit me. He was preparing to go to the Philippines to join the Comboni Missionaries there. I introduced him to Francis, and it turned out that they were from the same province, and they knew each other. Though China is a vast country, the Catholic community is tightly knit and well networked, thanks to the Internet. I let Francis bring Huang Wendong, who is also Francis, around the seminary, so the two of them could also talk freely.

Two days after Huang Wendong’s visit, Francis began to ask me more questions about the Claretians, and told me that he was “thinking of wanting to become a Claretian.” I did not expect that we would have any Chinese vocation at that time. I was at first against the idea of looking for vocations in China since we had been there for only a year. But there was that young man, asking about the congregation, as if sent by the Lord of the harvest in answer to our prayers.  Still, I did not know what to do, so I emailed Paco on 2 December, and informed him about Francis, and asked him what I should tell him.

Paco advised me that “he should get to know a bit more about us” and that according to the rector, there would not be any problem if any of those seminarians wanted to become a Claretian, or Dominican, or Jesuit, as he himself would support them in their decision. But Paco added, “first things first, give him time to know us.”

It was still difficult for Francis to understand English, so I gave him the draft of Claret’s biography in Chinese and asked him to continue to pray. Paco would come on 9 January 2008, so he could then talk to him in Chinese.

I continued my English class with them, with a new lesson beginning every Tuesday, daily 100-word composition writing, 15-minute weekly personal conversation with me for speaking practice, film watching and reflection writing every week, Saturday evening recreation, and night prayer every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. We had a week-long Christmas break from 22 December to 1 January. Paco did not come as planned as he needed more time to get a visa to China; he returned to the seminary on January 16.

Francis came to see me first, so I could introduce him to Paco since they had not met before. I brought him to Paco’s room and they talked for some minutes. He came to see me again after their talk, and told me that he had told Paco that he wanted to know more about the Claretians and to discern if he had the vocation to become a Claretian. Paco advised him to continue praying and that we would help him in his discernment. The seminarians left on 21 January and went home for the lunar new year holiday.

What a beautiful place—Beijing National Seminary! But I never expected that I could not fit myself to live in that community. I do not have the energy and I do not feel happy. I thought that I might not be fit [for that seminary], so I wanted to change to another seminary. But the leader of my diocese did not understand me and told me that he would not support me if I left. He said that I should not care about anything else except my purpose [in life], which was to become a priest. Hearing those words confused me because if my only purpose [in life] and the only thing I wanted was to become a priest, then, for me it would be so bad. I want to become a priest because I want to be happy, because I want to do good. I cannot [become a priest] just because I want to become a priest, and lie to myself and to God.
— My Vocation Story, 10 June 2009
They returned to the seminary on 21 February, and classes resumed. Francis then came and talked to me as well as to Paco. But I gave him the same advice: pray and ask God what he wanted him to do.

I clearly knew I was not fit for the Benedictines. Thanks a lot, my God, [because] during that time Paco and Sid helped me to clarify what I really had to do. I talked with them for many times and from them, I first learned how to discern my vocation. Sid told me, and that was the first time I heard those words, “Francis, what is it you really want? What does God want you to do?” I had never thought about that before. I just tried to be happy and followed my heart, so I never thought of asking God.
— My Vocation Story, 10 June 2009
At the same time that Francis was discerning his vocation, another seminarian, Thomas, also came to see me. I again referred him to Paco, so they could talk in Chinese. The two would at times come to my room for a chat or to watch some videos, but I purposely did not mention anything to either Francis or Thomas about the vocation discernment of the other. I wanted them to decide on their own and not be influenced by anyone.

While their classmates tried to ignore the restlessness and anxiety they were feeling, even as they had decided to suffer in silence for the sake of their vocation, these two were willing to leave everything in order to discern and follow God’s call.

Thomas went and told the rector that he wanted to leave, but the rector advised him to think over his decision for a month. Francis also went to see their rector in the first days of March and told him that he did not want to become a Benedictine. The rector explained to him that to be a Benedictine was optional. He talked to the rector again, but instead of telling him that he wanted to leave the seminary, he told him the truth about his vocation: he went to the minor seminary, but he did not really want to become a priest. Once he told the rector that he did not want to become a priest, he was allowed to leave the seminary as soon as he was ready.

After that I thought about my vocation for a long time and I prayed. After a month I decided to leave. So after talking to my rector twice, I left.
I have really loved that life after half a year in the seminary, but I left because of many problems. I still remember that night [when I left the seminary], I could not sleep because I really missed my life there and I missed my brothers. I felt so lonely. Maybe I was wrong. I asked God, “Why do I feel so sad?” At that moment I thought that I should end that journey; I have to renew my life.
— My Vocation Story, 10 June 2009

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