Because the Holy Spirit is On-Line: Dispatches from Shanghai

Because the Holy Spirit is On-Line: Dispatches from Shanghai June 22, 2012
There are many posts written here at YIMCatholic that haven’t been read by enough people.  This one is from around the end of May in 2011 and is about the “Sign of Contradiction,” Our Mother, the Church, in China.  Perhaps the writing is lame, but the photographs alone are worth a look. See if you agree.


It’s minor miracle time. Yesterday I got around to forwarding my recent post on Dom Lou to my friend Jonathan Chaves.

Jonathan, a professor of Chinese at George Washington University, is the person I met when I “discovered” Wu Li. He e-mailed me back right before supper and informed me that he has been in Shanghai for the past two months and is wrapping up a research trip there. He said he could not read my post, however, because all blogs were “suppressed.” What?! I hate it when that happens.

Never fear though, because I found a way to get it to him anyway. Heh! Once a Marine, Always a Marine. Just keep trying to build the mouse trap guys, and I’ll just keep figuring out ways around it. Adapt. Improvise. Overcome. You know the drill, “be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.”

But the miracle part, see, is that before I could get my post to him, Jonathan sent me a barrage of photographs from his trip there. Jonathan is an Orthodox Christian, and he reports that the Orthodox Church has really been hammered by the Chinese Government, who allow only one dilapidated parish to remain in Hong Kong. But as a student of Chinese history, my learned friend decided to tour some of the Catholic parishes in Shanghai, and environs, and he gave me permission to share his photographs and thoughts with you.

He visited exactly the same places I had just written about a few days ago. Coincidence? Or the Holy Spirit? Well, let’s just say that I don’t believe in luck, sports fans, and call it at that. Jonathan’s commentary below is in italics and mine, ahem, isn’t.

Let’s go to China! First up is St. Ignatius Cathedral in lovely Shanghai,

I am towards the final days of a two-month research and lecturing trip to Shanghai and to Anhui Province. In Shanghai, I visited St. Ignatius Cathedral, founded by the Jesuits on their return to China in the 19th century, and the famed Zikawei Library nearby, also founded by them.

Zikawei is were M. Shu directed Lou Tseng-Tsiang to investigate Catholicism, remember?

The Library at Zikawei

This is one of the finest libraries anywhere of materials related to Christianity in China; the Chinese language books have been transfered to the Shanghai Provincial Library, leaving the Western language materials. A complete list of the Chinese texts, many dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries and still remaining to be studied in depth, will be published in Sino-Western Cultural Relations Journal by Ad Dudink of the Catholic University, Louvain.

And near the Cathedral, a statue of a very famous convert to the Faith,

A recently erected statue of Hsü Kuang-ch’i/Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), the single most famous convert to Catholicism in China. He is known in Vatican history by his baptismal name Paul Hsu. The statue is near St. Ignatius Church, yet the inscription describes him only as a “scientist.” Which is like describing George Washington as only a “soldier.”

And we lament our generations lack of knowledge of history? That is willful, State-Controlled ignorance though. Good grief. News Flash: there is a cause for his beatification!

You know, “recently erected statue” sounds promising. I cruised through our main public library yesterday and saw a book entitled Buddism Under Mao by Homes Welch leaping off the shelf at me. Looks like interesting reading, I thought. This is from the dust cover,

Holmes Welch delineates the problem that Buddhism presented to the Chinese Communists and shows how they solved it. He seeks to answer the broader questions: What happens to religion in a Communist state? And what happens to the men of religion who try to accommodate Communism or even to find in it a chance for religious renewal? Drawing on materials from the Mainland press and on rare pamphlets and journals collected in Japan and Southeast Asia as well as more than a hundred interviews with refugees and visitors to China Mr. Welch has made the most detailed study yet available on the subject. He describes how Buddhist institutions were controlled, protected, utilized and suppressed – in each case so as to serve the needs of foreign and domestic policy. Over eighty photographs illustrate the activities of monks, layman and foreign visitors…. As a Research Associate in East Asian Studies at Harvard University, Holmes Welch worked for over a decade on the trilogy here complete. The proceeding volumes, The Practice of Chinese Buddhism, 1900-1950 and The Buddhist Revival in China (HUP 1967, 1968), dealt with Buddhism in the years before the Communist victory.

Jonathan agrees that Welch is “an excellent scholar.” Now to the next stop on our tour. Lookee here, the parish in Shuidong.

St. Mary’s of Shuidong?

In remote Shuidong (“East of the Waters”) in Anhui Province, west of Shanghai, in 1870 was founded a church dedicated to the Virgin. The dedication was by French Jesuit, Fr. Joseph Seckinger, S.J. (1829-1890).

The Sisters are undercover, but friendly

Two young nuns live there (shown wearing lay clothes), and pictures of the Pope are in evidence, even though officially this is part of the “patriotic church” (there are on-going negotiations about this complex matter between the government here and the Vatican).

Sigh…I feel at home already

I sought this place out, and it was very tough to find. Someone helped me negotiate the winding, ancient streets of the small town, and then–behold! A superb building that welcomes over 100 parishioners for Sunday Mass, held by a visiting priest who makes the rounds to different churches.

St. Francis and the Altar

There is an anonymous oil painting of St. Francis Xavier, and a monument with the Lord’s Prayer in four languages:  Latin, Chinese, English, French, as well as the deserted residences of the Jesuits, and, finally, a statue of Fr. Seckinger, who died and is buried in Anhui, wearing Chinese garb.

Now on to the parish church in Hefei.

Not as romantic on the outside

I attended mass in Hefei, the provincial capital of Anhui Province. Though the church is run-down on the outside, it is well cared for.

The Homily

And the overflow crowd were obviously sincere as they listened to the priest’s sermon (first interior picture) and then stood to recite the Credo, displayed in yellow Chinese characters on the monitors above.

“I believe in One God, the Father Almighty…”

Standing room only!

I’ve seen the use of video screens at Mass at the college campus parish in my town.  But that is so low-tech compared to the thin screen televisions used at Hefei. Coming soon to a parish near you? And guess what else was in evidence in the “worker’s paradise” at Hefei…


There was a beggar at the gate. Or it could be an angel. You just never know. 

Finally, note that the Orthodox Church is not allowed to practice at all, with the exception of one parish in Hong Kong which was negotiated by a team including a deacon from my own church. The bottom-line for the government is no longer the ideological hostility to religion that prevailed, but rather a distrust of what they see as any “dual loyalty,” to the Vatican, or to Moscow (the Russian Orthodox Church being the only branch with any history here).

Remember the militant xenophobia shown during the Boxer Rebellion? Or the dual loyalty arguments back in the 19th Century in the the United States? Nothing new here really.

There is one Russian Orthodox Church standing in Shanghai; it was turned into a restaurant for a while, then completely shuttered and stripped of all identifying marks or signs. But I did find a little cross inscribed above a rear doorway.

Sign of Contradiction


Lord Jesus Christ, comfort our brothers and sisters in the Faith in China. We pray also that religious freedom will be given to all peoples in China and throughout the world so that all may have an avenue to reach You without fear, anxiety, or hardship. Mother Mary, Help of Christians, pray for them!

Thanks for sharing your travels with us Jonathan. May you have a safe passage home. Bon Voyage!

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