Dateline China: Because We Are One Body

I met Maria Holland here at YIM Catholic when she commented on one of my posts about a Lenten hymn attributed to Gregory the Great.  She is attending Xiamen University in the city of that same name.  It is a city on the East Coast of the People’s Republic of China. Due east, and directly across the Taiwan Strait, lies the island nation Taiwan. Having recently written several posts about painting master and poet Wu Li,  I must have China on my mind. So I checked in with “our correspondent in Xiamen” and ran across this post that gives us a slice of life in the Catholic Church in China. Continue to check in on Maria at her blog Adventuring Towards… (see sidebar).

Guest post by Maria Holland
This morning, I went to Zhangzhou for Bishop Cai’s first Mass in his hometown. We lined up outside the church in the rain to greet him as he stepped out of the car, all dressed up in his new bishop duds.

Mrs. Zhang (my Chinese mom) and I found a place, a small vacancy on a kneeler, and stationed ourselves there to wait for Mass to begin. The sanctuary was loud but I was trying to ignore the noise (and the stares) and pray. Out of nowhere, a woman came up to us, pushed Mama out of the way, handed her a camera, put her arm around my waist, and posed for a picture. Picture taken, she faded into the crowd without so much as a thank you. I hope she treasures that picture of her and I, thin-lipped smile on my face, forever.

Today was perhaps worse than usual, especially for church. This is difficult for me, because I try to be forbearing and understanding of Chinese people’s behavior towards me but . . . I’m just not that good of a person, not good enough to smile for every picture and respond to every “hallow?!?”. At church, I’m even more conscious of a duty to those around me.

I have many reasons for going to Chinese Mass here in Xiamen – more convenient time and location, Chinese language practice, making friends, experiencing the Catholic Church in China. I get a lot out of it, but deep down I hope that I give something back. Here in China, where the church is separated from the Roman Catholic Church by political disagreements, language barriers, and relative isolation, I hope that it some small way I can be the face of the Universal Church. I hope I can remind them that the creed we confess is the same regardless of language, and let them see the solidarity that we share in this faith, in which their sadness is my sadness and their joy is my joy.

But on days like today, I’m pretty sure that none of that message is getting through. On days like today, I feel like the only purpose I serve is distracting those around me from the real reason we’re both in church. I’m the sore thumb, the squeaky wheel, the elephant in the room.

This is sad for me. Honestly, I don’t really mind the kids pointing; kids will be kids everywhere. They nudge their parents, indicate me sitting behind them, and I force myself to smile for them. But I wish the parents would take advantage of this opportunity to teach their children a lesson, to tell them that I’m not a foreigner, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” There is no us and them in the Church; we’re all members of the Body of Christ, and “there should be no divisions in the body”.

Thankfully, there are some who seem to understand this, for which I am eternally grateful. I vividly remember one conversation with LiuQin (the woman who drives me crazy) and Fr. Cai (#2); she told him to greet me by saying “Hello, foreigner!”, and he corrected her, saying that there we were all just brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of the priests, when giving me communion, will say “The Body of Christ” instead of “基督的身体”, which is a small gesture that acknowledges both our shared faith and our different languages. My heart basically melted today when, during the Sign of Peace, Mama awkwardly extended her hand towards me; she had apparently figured out how we do things in America and wanted to shake my hand as she wished me peace. (Here in China, the Sign of Peace consists of shaking your hands, palms together, towards others while bowing.)

After Mass, firecrackers, and food, we went back home. I spent the majority of the day in my room, avoiding the monsoon outside and all. Some items from the news:

Apparently the Shanghai pavilion at the Expo has a 6-D show. I was already impressed by the 4-D (??) movie we watched at Hulishan, so I can’t even imagine what kind of crazy stuff goes on in a 6-D exhibit! Maybe I’ll go see the Expo after all .

And if you believe that, then North Korea has successfully carried out nuclear fusion, “the holy grail of cheap, clean energy that has heretofore eluded every other scientist ever.”

Most of my friends who were studying abroad this semester are done and headed home; they left America after me and returned before me. I have been gone a long time, but as I’ve learned on previous trips to China: no matter how long you’re here, you always feel like you’re leaving just as you’re getting the hang of it.

This evening, I went out with my friend Aleid for a late dinner of barbecue and a dessert of 豆花 (sweet tofu soup). We went from there to Dreamer’s House, a bar/coffee shop/hostel located in an awesome building that climbs up and clings to a hill. A band was having their farewell concert downstairs, but we met up with some friends and found a nice spot near the very top just to talk. Good night after a long day!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Thanks for your post Maria! As someone who lived overseas, I can sympathize with your feelings. I wish I had gone to church when I was overseas, but I never did. And I spent 3 1/2 years overseas!

  • Don Muench

    In July 2009 I was in Znagzhou with a team of 12 American teachers to teach English conversation at the Bilingual Experimental School there. I had the opportunity twice to go to Mass in the city. I was welcomed afterwards by several English-speaking Chinese who were delighted that I came to their church. They asked if I was Catholic (yes) and they were overjoyed to know that I am Catholic. The parish priest was also kind. He could speak little English, but he did give me a blessing, which I cherish to this day (Sept 2012). At that time Xiamen had no bishop, but I rejoiced the next year when I heard that a new bishop had been appointed, after 30 years or more of having no bishop.


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