Maria Holland

Brothers and Sisters, This Is Your New Bish

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2010 at 5:43 pm

As of this morning, Fr. Joseph Binrui Cai is the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Xiamen.  This is the first time I’ve ever known a bishop!  Besides that one time I talked to Bishop Slattery at the Spaghetti Dinner, my main impression of them has been from reading their writings.  While I won’t go so far as to say that Bishop Cai and I are besties, we went to Shanghai together on a church trip, we have each other’s cell phone numbers, he joined us for dinner when my parents were here, and he bought me a Christmas present.  I have nothing but good things to say about him: he’s humble, easy to be around and easy to talk to.  Like Fr. Zhao, he’s been very caring and helpful towards me, making sure I’m taken care of – which I know is not easy!  He’s always smiling and quick to laugh, even mentioning in his speech afterwards that if people stop joking with him now that he’s bishop, he’ll be sad.  Well, as you wish!  While I will address him as 蔡主教 in Chinese, in English I think I might affectionately call him ‘Bish’.

I got up this morning at 6:30 to be at the church by 7:45 (which, as far as weekends have been going recently, is about average for morning meeting times).  I grabbed a choir robe to put on – which was exciting because I ended up with only a L, as the XL went to Little Brother, who’s about twice my girth. 


We warmed up as the crowds grew larger – but never unruly, checked both by volunteers and, one can only hope, shame at the idea of quarreling on such a holy occasion.  There were separate tickets for each area of the church compound – main floor, balcony, side conference room, downstairs, and the other buildings.  Altogether, I’m guessing there were anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 participants there! 

Considering that it was about 80 with 100% humidity and we were wearing robes made out of synthetic fibers, it wasn’t too hard to warm up.  We then proceeded to chill out and attempt to cool off.  I had a great conversation with Xiao Shen by the fan.  He seemed really excited, and wanted to know if I had ever been to a bishop’s installation before.  He wondered if people in America would be hearing about it, as Fr. Cai was one of the special cases of bishops getting ordained in China – with the full approval of both China and the Vatican.  I was really happy to hear the status of the ordination for sure, and assured him that I would do my best to tell people about it. 

The procession was epically long.  There were at least 50 priests (although our diocese only has 10!) and FIVE bishops, plus all the servers needed to incense, carry books, and hold the miters of FIVE bishops.

The Mass was extended by the addition of the installment ceremony.  There was one part where the consecrating bishop asked Fr. Cai a bunch of questions, to which he responded “I am willing”.  It was during this section that I realized the blessing of having local bishops, fluent in the local languages and products of the local culture, so that the local congregation can fully participate in ceremonies like this.  I mean, it’s not a huge deal that Bishop Slattery is from Chicago, but as far as I can tell all the former bishops of Xiamen were Spanish.  While I don’t agree with the extreme position of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, I am really happy that the Church here has grown to the point where it is self-governing. 

Then Fr. Cai prostrated himself on the ground while we sang the Litany of the Saints.  It’s such a preposterous idea in some ways, to become a bishop right now.  There have certainly been harder times in the history of Christianity (the rule of Diocletian comes to mind), and there are probably less popular groups of people (leaders of Goldman Sachs, perhaps?), but still it’s not exactly a poll-topper.  But I hope that young bishops, like young people in the congregation, can become the future of the Church.  And that’s why we sang, to beg God for mercy, to request the intercession of the saints, and to ask the Lord to bless our new bishop.

He was anointed and then presented with the Gospel, and his ecclesial ring, crozier (staff), and miter (hat).  Then he took his seat on the cathedra and the consecrating bishop proclaimed: “Brothers and sisters, this is your new bishop!” as the congregation applauded.  According to the internet, it’s been 27 years since Xiamen had a bishop, so I’d imagine some of them might have been even more excited than me. 


Once the Mass was ended, everyone poured out into the courtyard for pictures.  There were official photographers and videographers, so I’m hoping to get a good-quality DVD later, but for now here’s an idea of how many clergy were there:


The second row, by the way, is all sisters.  The choir also got a photo taken with Bishop Cai, and I got a picture with two of my favorite choir buddies, Xiao Shen and Little Brother:


I was also approached at least 5 times for taking pictures with random people I’ve never seen before, which might have tied me with some of the other bishops.  I was also approached about 5 times by people making sure I had gotten all the stuff they were handing out – snacks, rosaries, holy cards, and thank-you gifts for helping out.  Afterwards, in one of the traditions of my church here that I’m coming to treasure, we went to lunch.  They had booked the entire fish restaurant next door, and all of us volunteers had a huge meal complete with trips to other tables to toast.

I was pretty quiet during the meal.  I just enjoyed the food (worms in jelly anyone?  But seriously, most of it was good) and savored the experience of looking around the room and seeing so many foreign faces that have become familiar.  Today’s a big day for me, and I just can’t put my thoughts into Chinese without a very patient listener. 

Today’s Mass was the pinnacle of my experiences with the Catholic Church in China, the culmination of the better part of a year spent with my adopted parish.  I’ve worshipped with them weekly, been on a pilgrimage, and witnessed the bounty of vocations in this fruitful Year of the Priest.  And now I’ve witnessed the installation of the new bishop – locally, a shepherd to lead the congregation closer to Christ, but nationally perhaps an sign of good things to come in Sino-Vatican relations?  It fills me with emotions that tend that to defy verbalization. 

In another way, today’s Mass was kind of my final test in the course Catholic Chinese 101.  Weekly Mass is like going to class, my homework is previewing and reviewing the readings, my midterm was the pilgrimage to Shanghai, and conversations with LiuQin are pop quizzes.  Today, between the length of the three-hour Mass and my slightly-more-prominent position as a member of the choir, the stakes were higher and the grade counted.  I’m still far from 100% comprehension, but it’s nice to see how far I’ve come, to the point where I can somewhat function as a normal parishioner would.

And finally, today is the date of my original intended graduation back at TU.  I should have been hours away from receiving my diploma and weeks away from relocating to a graduate school, but instead I have the Chinese version of “Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace” stuck in my head and I’m toasting lukewarm Tsingtao while listening to a mix of Mandarin and Minnanhua conversations around me.  The emotions surrounding this crazy path my life have taken are hard to put into words in any language!  The best I can do is express my faith that God has brought me here for a reason, and express my gratitude that He has done so. 

But I don’t say things like that in Chinese.  I’m a different person in Chinese – practically a necessity in a second language, or at least an inevitability.  I joke around a lot in Chinese, but find it hard (logistically and personally) to talk about deeper things.  But I want my church here to know how blessed I feel at being able to join their congregation this year, so maybe I need work on this.

  1. I am so happy that you got to experience this and share it with us. It is/was a momentous day for many. Congratulations and good luck to the Class of 2010!

  2. great blog Maria! I’m so happy for you, Bishop Cai, and the Chinese Catholics!

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