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The cradle of my faith and life revisited

Atrip to the capital of the south of China to discover the roots of the Catholic faith brought me to the place where the great Jesuit missionary, Father Matteo Ricci, lived and preached the gospel for three years while he was preparing for his mission to the Imperial Court.

Nanchang is the capital of Jiangxi province with a population of five million people. Four hundred years ago, Father Ricci debated with local scholars, spread the gospel and built a church in the city.

The Nanchang Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception is still the only Catholic church in the urban area. It was built in 1922 and a sports statue of Father Ricci in the courtyard. The parish even has a youth group today.

However, Protestant Churches seem to be more active in Nanchang and have two parishes in the urban area. Their communions are formed in the colleges and universities in Nanchang.

Some have a fixed place for worship and clergy serving the students. In Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, some professors and teachers who have studied abroad brought the gospel to students.

They rent a house for worship each week. Although the Church faces pressure from the police, communion has continued for a decade and authorities don’t seem to prevent private worship at present.

I graduated from a university in Nanchang, so I went there to see how the city has changed and to visit the museum. I was there during the national holiday period from October 1 to 7 and went with the young people and some priests to Fuzhou on pilgrimage.

I talked with a priest and stayed a night in the dormitory.

He told me that the new cathedral of the archdiocese will be moved to a suburban area, near the newly built Nanchang West Railway Station, but the old church will stay open. Though the project is still in the planning stages, the government has agreed to offer 50 hectares of land.

We talked about Father Ricci. The priest said that he left invisible treasures for China, not only the gospel, but also science, and he pointed to a Matteo Ricci Centre will be built on Mount Lushan.

Bishop Wu Shizhen is retired and he is suffering from a gradual loss of memory. Bishop Li Suguang has been appointed by the pope and he is also recognised by the Chinese government.

The Church is in the period of flux, the old will retire, but the young clergy are few. However, that is the pattern around the world.

At present, there is no seminary in Jiangxi province and there are not enough teachers. But there is a plan to establish a tutorial centre, as a preparatory centre or minor seminary, at the new cathedral.

Since there is no seminary in Jiangxi, the students or seminarians have been sent to Beijing, Shanghai and Hebei. It is not easy to train competent clergy, they must study philosophy and theology for six years and during this period they consider whether to be ordained or not.

Naturally, some leave. The success rate is not high.

Then we talked about drinking wine. Drinking is a unique tradition in China. The priest said the Chinese like to persuade others to drink at banquets.

He explained that he feels uneasy attending banquets with government officials. I told him that Protestants in China don’t drink or smoke, but Catholics do. He agreed, saying that it is common among the priests.

I am not sure whether it is good or not. And I found cigarette butts in the dormitory.

The priest told me he studied in Germany and had visited the Vatican. He said that the Church will choose some more seminarians to study in Europe.

We also spoke about the universities that were owned by the Church in China. He said it was a pity that the top schools like Yenching University and Fujen University have been closed.

Fujen was reopened in Taiwan. He said since tensions between Taiwan and the mainland have been alleviated, several seminarians are attending Fujen. He called this a good thing.

History textbooks in China do not mention that Xu Guangqi is a Catholic, he is called a patriotic scientist. Father Ricci presented a map of the world and a clock to the Chinese emperor, but his mission is not mentioned.

The missionaries were innovative in China and we should remember their contribution and respect them. Many died for the truth, but in the textbooks, they are still referred to as invaders. This is hard to argue against as the mindset bred by propaganda dies hard.

I visited Jiangxi Provincial Museum. It presents ancient scholars and their talents, but they have passed away, although their thoughts last forever.

I read the articles and poems again. When I was in high school, I hated classical Chinese literature, I thought it was hard to understand, but I had to recite them for the examination.

I thought it was ridiculous that ancient writers always praised the infinite universe and sighed with deep emotion over how short life is, it made no sense.

I even thought ancient people were too relaxed. They had nothing to do so they wrote poems and articles to raise vague questions. After graduating and gaining some experience, I realised that ancient writers had their purpose. They used their whole life to seek truth.

Now I know that ancient people respected heaven and earth, but the tradition is lost now. Everything in the world is created by the Omnipotent, the stars and celestial creation orbit in an order as precise as a clock. God should be praised.

After my visit, I invited a Christian and a catechumen to come to my city.


John Ai

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