Monday, August 02, 2004

i went to church

actually, it was a catholic church, and it was beautiful. i think it was named Holy Family, based on the mosaic above the altar which featured Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. on sunday, three other teachers and i, and one student, set out in the unofficial-official university van to find the catholic church. i wasn't sure at all what we were looking for. after 10-15 minutes, when we arrived, it certainly didn't look like a western/european church. we pulled off of a side road, went up a small driveway, and stopped in a courtyard. there were buildings on all sides of us, and as i looked at the back of the van, i saw a shrine to the virgin mary. then we went in a small, side door, and all of a sudden, it *did* look like a catholic church. there was an altar, statues of jesus on the right and mary on the left, and a choir loft.

the music started, and the priest entered behind 4 altar boys in white cassocks. he didn't come in from the back, but instead from the side. they made their way to the altar, paused there for a moment, then the priest and one altar boy made their way back down the main aisle, dipping a palm frond in the holy water and showering the congregation. after making their way back to the altar, the mass started. the ritual itself was all very usual and comfortable. i followed along with no problem, as easily as i do back home. there was the responsorial, the two readings, a sermon, and of course the singing. i couldn't recognize the songs specifically, but their sound was familiar.

the interesting part thoughout the mass was the crowd. the church was what i would call medium-size. not small by any means, probably 30-35 rows of pews on each side of the main aisle. the people there were all older, more mature chinese. we speculated that this was the grandparents...the people who were catholic before the 1949 revolution and the governmental regulation in the 1950s. i am not even sure if the church has been in constant existence throughout this period. now, it co-exists with the government peacefully, but not cordially. in fact, the government still prevents the church from affiliating with the Vatican.

but back to the people. they were all very special, and very kind. not unlike nearly everyone we've met so far. they were, naturally, very thrilled that we were in the church, and many made efforts to talk to us as soon as we arrived, all throughout the service, and immediately afterward. of course we had no idea what they were saying. the one student with us, Linda, did her best to stay with us, but they would grab one of us and take us in one direction to show us something, and then someone would grab another and go somewhere else. also, we were trying to get to the priest to talk to him. eventually, after taking some photos on the altar, we reached the priest and i was able to give him a "Holy Family Volunteer" satchel that my friend Fr. Kevin [pastor at, coincidentally, Holy Family in Columbus] had given me to deliver to someone in China. i am pretty sure, but not completely sure, that linda was able to convey to him this was a gift from a priest in America. he seemed happy nevertheless, and we took some photos of him, before loading into the van.

as we left the church, i started thinking about the thriving congregation, and how hard it must have been for them to keep their faith. the period of the 1950s-1970s was surely a very dark one for them. but whatever they went through then, they were there now, undeterred, celebrating with each other and their God.

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