CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 August 2018

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China and the cross

Since 2014, an official campaign carrying out the demolition of crosses on Christian churches has been conducted, primarily in Zhejiang province.

Chinese authorities do not like to see crosses dotting the skyline of their country: the cross is a religious, Christian symbol which they see as contradictory to their atheistic ideology.   

And yet, the cross has played a special role in the history of the Church in China. In Beijing, in July 1605, Father Matteo Ricci received a Chinese Jewish visitor from Henan, named Ai Tian (艾田), who informed him about the presence of a Jewish community around a synagogue in Kaifeng, Henan. 

He was also informed about the prior presence of “foreigners who adore the cross” in Kaifeng, Linjin () in Shanxi and elsewhere, who, due to persecution, gradually disappeared and their church was turned into a Guandi temple. 

They were known as the Church of the Cross (十字教). Father Ricci was also told by other missionaries that elsewhere in the Chinese empire, the Adorers of the Cross marked all their food and drink with the sign of the cross and even painted the same sign in black on the front of their children to protect them from misfortune.1 

Likewise this custom was quite widespread in South China, especially in Sichuan and among the minority ethnic groups of Guizhou.2

It was a common belief outside China in the 16th and 17th centuries that Chinese venerate the cross, even without knowing the reason.

But the Christian cross has had a special relationship with Chinese Catholics.

An interesting and rare document was published and widely disseminated in China. In 1722 it was sent by the Jesuit missionaries in Zhejiang to their superior general in Rome, Father Michele Tamburini. 

Entitled, Four times a miracle appeared in Shandong and Zhejiang (山東浙江四次發現聖跡), it is written on a thin sheet of silk paper and carefully kept among the manuscripts of the Roman College. 

The miracle is comprised of four apparitions of the cross in the Chinese sky, between the years 1718 and 1722. The document briefly describes the events: 

The first time the cross appeared was on 20 August 1718 (57th year of Kangxi), between the seventh and ninth hours in the evening in Jinan City, Shandong. It stood on a bright cloud, while a stripe of fire crossed the sky from east to west, leaving behind numerous shining stars.

After reaching the end of the journey, fire, stars and cross all disappeared, followed by a strong thunderclap. The whole city could contemplate the event.

The second apparition happened in the same city on 8 September 1718, in the evening, between the seventh and ninth hours, but in larger dimension and blinding light, surrounded by stars and a crown of clouds. For a quarter of an hour it moved from south to north and then, for another quarter hour, from east to west. 

The third appearance happened at 7.00pm on 31 December 1719 (58th year of Kangxi), on the thatched roof of a chapel built by the Lu Family in the village of Jinjiaqiao, of Yuyao district, city of Shaoxing in Zhejiang (金家桥,余姚,绍兴,浙江): it was a white shining cross of blinding light with clouds and stars around. It lasted more than a quarter of an hour and was seen by 11 Catholics and a large crowd of non-believers.

The fourth time the cross appeared was on 23 June 1722 (61st year of Kangxi) at 7.00pm in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang (杭州,浙江). It was a white cross with arms quite long, shining very brightly in the sky. The event lasted half an hour and then gradually disappeared. The whole city saw the event.

There was a fifth apparition on 15 June 1725 which, unfortunately, was only documented through a letter of a Jesuit, Father Ladislaw Orosz, who wrote from Rome, but without details. 

On 4 August 1726, he wrote to a confrère: “We are told here in Rome that a new heavenly miracle has recently happened in the Chinese empire. On 15 June 1725, a shining cross was seen in the sky, rising above a chalice, from whose mouth three nails were coming out…”3  

Most probably, the meaning of the appearances was to remind Chinese Catholics of the long period of persecution to come and to get ready to share the cross of the Lord for their faith, as many of them did during the following centuries. 

But the cross also appeared in order to protect the Catholic community in the autumn of 1929 in Henan province, when at night, a shining cross was seen on the main gate of a village, 45 kilometres south of Tanghe, Henan (唐河,河南), scaring away the bandits who were preparing an assault.4  

On the outskirts of Taiyuan, Shanxi (present Xinghualing district 杏花岭区) in the village of Changgou (长沟), an article by a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Wang Meixiu (王美秀),5 reported that a miracle happened on the morning of 10 March 1965. 

Farmers from the nearby village of Dijiazhuang (狄家庄), Wang Jicheng, Wang Wuben and Liu Deming (王继成、王务本、刘德明), had gone to spread manure on the fields. At a certain moment Liu Deming raised his head and saw about 10 metres above the crags of the northern bay, a horizontal stripe as of sand and a vertical one as of rain, high as a human person, all shining,

He asked his two friends to have a look and all three agreed that it was a bright cross. They went back to the village to inform other people who hastened to see the event. They turned the place into a pilgrimage spot and a ground for religious activities: praying, singing and reciting the way of the cross. 

The news quickly spread and many people, even from neighbouring provinces, flocked there to worship. They even registered other unusual events.

This raised worries among local authorities, who previously, during the Four Cleanups Campaign (四清), had closed the local church and dismissed the priest.

Considering these historical events and others (for example, the cross of light that Roman emperor, Constantine, and his army saw in the sky before the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312AD with the message, “In this sign you will win”), one wonders how the present campaign by the Chinese authorities to demolish the cross in order to eliminate the presence of this important Christian symbol could prevent its possible appearance in places they cannot think of.

Jesus, who chose the cross as his throne, is the Lord of heaven and the whole sky (as well as the whole earth) is always available to him.  ST

 

 

 

  1. Pasquale D’ELIA, Fonti Ricciane, vol. II, no. 724  (Roma: La Libreria dello Stato, 1949), p. 319-321.
  2. Henri BERNARD, La Découverte de Nestoriens Mongols aux Ordos et l’Histoire ancienne du Christianismr en Extreme-Orient (Haute Etudes, Tientsin, 1935), pp. 34-37.
  3. “Antiche Apparizioni di Croci e le sorti del Cristianesimo in Cina”, in La Civiltà Cattolica, 1920, pp. 51-56. 
  4. AG-PIME, XVII, 25, pp. 1369-1370.
  5. 1965太原天主教闹事事件来龙去脉 (中国社会科学院世界宗教研究所:王美秀研究员).