I wasn’t going to post again before leaving for Wuyishan, but I have to share about my morning. (I’m in a hurry, though, so you’ll have to wait on pictures until I get back). I went to a small village called Zhangpu, a few hours away from Xiamen. Exciting, huh?
Well, the reason we went out there was for Fr. Zhao’s First Mass in his hometown. It was quite an event – there were about 60 or 70 of us from Xiamen making the trip! There were even two other foreigners – a Filipino woman and a Spanish woman – and I learned some things about our church from talking to them.
First of all, Fr. Zhao is not staying at our parish. He’s not sure yet where he’s going, but he’s expecting to find out this weekend. I’m sad, but I’m sure that he’s needed elsewhere.
The second thing that I learned stunned me. With Fr. Zhao leaving, our only priest will Fr. Jiang (this is how it has been since I got here, but Deacon Zhao helped out a lot). Fr. Jiang doesn’t speak very clearly and I have a hard time understanding him in Chinese and English, so I really haven’t had much affection for him. But then the two women were discussing the news of Fr. Zhao’s reassignment and they were talking about how good a man Fr. Jiang is. They shared a few anecdotes and then told me that he was in prison for 20 years or so during the Cultural Revolution and taught himself English.
Wow. In just a few words, they totally changed my perspective and made me really ashamed of how I had been thinking. I had been viewing Fr. Jiang as a speaking machine, nothing more. He’s not a voice recording for Listening class, though – he’s a priest, a spiritual leader. And anyway, if I were half as forgiving of non-native English speakers as Chinese people are of my atrocious Chinese, I would never have such uncharitable thoughts about a man who celebrates Mass, preaches homily, carries on conversations with parishioners, and (presumably) even offers confessions in English.
Also, the revelation about his prison time really shocked me. I think in America we have this idea of the patriotic church as basking in the approval of the Communist Party, with all barriers removed and life generally free and easy. That, I can say from my experience here, is totally not the case. Yes, the patriotic church is tolerated but it is not encouraged, and during parts of the not-so-distant past even the tolerance was withheld.
Anyway, we drove out to Zhangpu and walked to the church. I addition to the contingent from our parish, it seemed like everyone from the town came, too. There were about 10 priests! The church was decorated with streamers and a welcome banner, and the processional hymn was drowned out by the insanely loud popping of firecrackers in the courtyard.
During the homily, Father spoke about his discernment process, from childhood through seminary to today. (I recorded it all so I can listen again when I’ll understand more). Both of his parents passed away along the journey and they weren’t able to see him become a priest, so I think today was bittersweet for him, like a wedding would be.
After Mass we took the obligatory pictures (posted later). I think I was the second or third most popular photo subject, after the two new priests. I just kept getting roped into pictures with Fr. Zhao and random Chinese old women.
The bus ride out to the village was freezing, so when I finally got the church I prayed to be warm. God responded with a stunningly beautiful day – we’re talking short sleeves here!
Since I got back, I’ve been getting ready for my trip and attempting to find my cell phone, which I lost sometime this morning. Now we’re off, taking the midnight train to aaaaanyyywhere (hopefully to Wuyishan, but you never know what will happen in China).