Friday began with breakfast – rice dumplings filled with meat, fried noodles, hard boiled eggs, tomato slices, etc. I had to laugh when my Chinese travel companions pointed out that I was eating Western breakfast. Oh, really??
On the first bus ride of the morning, after praying the Rosary, we had a sort of sing-along. They asked me to sing an American hymn but, to my utter embarrassment, I was unable to remember the words to any of my favorite hymns! This, coupled with my atrocious singing voice at 8 a.m., means that I am resolved to never let any of them know that I was once the choir director at my church. Oh, the shame.
Our destination was Sheshan (literally, She Mountain). It is the highest mountain in Shanghai – that is, it’s really the only mountain in Shanghai, and frankly it’s quite generous to call it a mountain. It’s out in the suburbs of Shanghai – it was my first time seeing suburbs in China, but there were developments of identical single-family homes and everything! Anyway, the reason we were going there is because it is the site of the Sheshan Basilica, the only Catholic pilgrimage site in China.
We drove to the bottom of the mountain and started climbing from there. The mountain really isn’t that tall, though, and we stopped at a church about halfway up. When we reached the church, I was excited to see a familiar face – Deacon Zhao, soon to be Father Zhao! There was also another deacon from Xiamen who was also going to be ordained the next day. We celebrated Mass together, their last as deacons.
Afterwards, we prayed the prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan, composed by Pope Benedict (although we prayed it in Mandarin which, as far as I know, is not one of the several languages he speaks). Here’s a part of the prayer in English:
Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.
Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.
May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.
We continued climbing after Mass, praying the Stations of the Cross along the way. We were using the Minnanhua prayer books, which is definitely a form of penance for me. Minnanhua makes my brain hurt – literally, there is a part of my brain that throbs in a fuzzy way when I try to follow Minnanhua. It’s better with the book because all of the dialects of Chinese theoretically use the same characters, but . . . as with all things relating to the Chinese language, it’s not actually that simple. The weirdest thing is that “you”, which is written 你 in Mandarin, is written 尔 in Minnanhua – which is also a character in Mandarin, but with totally different pronunciation and meaning.
Anyway, as we prayed the Stations of the Cross, I had to look at the characters in the book, think of their sounds in Mandarin, and connect those to the sounds – at least sometimes similar – of the people around me praying in Minnanhua. At the same time, I had to look at the characters in the book, think of their meanings in Mandarin, and connect those to meanings and words in English. Like I said, Minnanhua makes my brain hurt.
The basilica at the top of the mountain was under construction (like most of Shanghai and, for that matter, most of China), so I didn’t get to go in. There was, however, an outdoor area with statues of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. I think I remember reading about the number of steps in temples according to the rank of the honoree, so I thought it was interesting to note the striking height difference between the three statues – Joseph had about three steps, while Jesus was almost a flight up.
Sheshan is also home to one of China’s 12 seminaries. This is where Fr. Cai and both soon-to-be-ordained deacons went to seminary, as evidenced by this picture of their 2007 graduating class:
We had lunch in their cafeteria, which was the site of a possible miracle for Our Lady of Sheshan. The boxed lunches that we were given consisted of rice, cooked Chinese cabbage, and fish. Now, I don’t eat fish. I don’t like the taste, texture, smell – nothing. Thus, this lunch seemed to be a test of my willingness to try anything, my desire to be polite, and my plain-old hunger. But – miracle of miracles – I LIKED IT! It was crazy – I don’t mean that I tolerated it, or that I choked it down, or that I downed an inordinate amount of water during the meal – but I actually enjoyed the fish. This may sound silly to those of you who know of some of my eating exploits (dog, pig cartilage, fish eye, chicken foot and beak, etc.) but fish is still a really big hang-up for me. Anyway, I need to figure out exactly how this fish was prepared and try to duplicate this amazing event.
After we came down from the mountain, we had a long bus ride to Pudong. Pudong (literally, “East of the HuangPu River”) is the huge financial and commercial center of Shanghai (and, pretty much, all of China). There are a lot of skyscrapers but only one worth seeing – the 东方明珠, or Oriental Pearl.
Honestly, it is really ugly in the daylight – it’s a TV tower made almost entirely of concrete, with gaudy opalescent purple ‘pearls’. We took pictures anyway, then returned to the authentic Shanghai experience of rush hour.
Our last stop of the day was Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Shanghai’s second most popular pilgrimage site.
Then we had dinner and returned to our hotel/liquor store for the night.