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    The Challenging Mission in Dongkeng (China)

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    In the frontlineBy Joseph Jin Xiuzhang, cicm

    When I was working at the Diocesan Seminary and later at the Spirituality Center as preacher of retreats or lecturer, I had a very narrow view of the pastoral ministry. As I had never had the chance to work in the parish, I used to minimize the pastoral ministry which I considered as an easy job compared to what I was doing in the Seminary.

    I regret for having kept long in mind a wrong conception of the pastoral ministry, which brought me sometimes to criticize the priests whose performance in the ministry was not well appreciated by their parishioners.

    My misunderstanding of the pastoral ministry was challenged as I got involved in the pastoral work together with our confreres. Indeed, the experience has taught me a lot. Especially after I encountered unexpected difficulties and challenges, I started questioning myself.

     I am Chinese and I was sent to China for mission; but in my own country, I first met with the language limitation problem. In fact, the place I was assigned to is different from my birthplace and I realized that most of the local inhabitants are not able to speak Mandarin, the official language. Of course, I can’t blame them for that. I realized that this is because of their education background. Many people in the District where I am working are not highly educated. Moreover, here people prefer to speak their local dialect instead of the official language (Mandarin).

    One day, a lady came to my office in tears, and she shared me her story with emotion. She was complaining about her husband’s violent behavior. I could hardly understand her plea as she was talking with emotion in a language that I did not fully understand. Although I could guess from her emotions what she was trying to say, I was lost and very limited linguistically. My command of the language could have definitely given me more confidence to be of help to her. In trying to be of help, I asked her to speak slowly and clearly, but she just looked at me and continued to talk as before. I felt so sorry for not being able to grasp the meaning, and the more, I was getting frustrated. I told myself that I should listen to her with my heart instead of my ears. That was the most disturbing experience of the language limitation I ever had.

    Some days later, another lady approached me and said: “Father Joseph, we do not understand what you are preaching to us.” This was a touching and frank remark. It challenged me to learn and adapt to the local language and realities for the effectiveness of my ministry. With this personal experience, I can imagine and understand what our Founder Theophile Verbist and his companions went through at the very beginning of the CICM Mission in China. Still today, many of our confreres are going through the same experience all over the world.

    However, in my pastoral experience in China, aside from the language difficulty, I came across another reality that is also most challenging: the Catholic faith.

    Due to various reasons, Christians are not properly practicing their faith, even though they claim that they are baptized. In fact, their religious practice is influenced by the Chinese traditional religions, such as Daoism, Buddhism, and other religious sects.

    For instance, in order to avoid bad luck and gain good fortune, many Catholics seek enlightenment from Fengshui Master, who usually provides concrete directions to solve problems. Then, they come to Catholic priests for implementing what they are asked to do by Fengshui Master. They do this without the awareness of the work of a Catholic priest and their own faith. It looks strange to me that people put their faith aside to follow their traditional beliefs in times of great needs.

    I think that many priests made efforts to prevent this from happening, but so far they failed. And I understand that this cannot be changed in one or two years: it is a long process to which we need to devote more time for the formation of the youth and the next generations. We can better foster the link between faith and culture / traditions, and help the people accept or overcome their painful experi- ences such as illness, bad luck, accidents and death.

    As CICM, the youth’s education is one of our priorities in the pastoral ministry as we hope to bring new understanding of the faith in China. We introduced the Sunday School for the youth, which was never seen in this Diocese before. This became the place where we try to make a significant change to distorted belief and performances. In addition, we initiated the summer and winter camps in the parish for the children and the youth who are willing to participate, and we also encourage others to join. I know that it is not always easy, but we hope that God will help us in this ministry, which I believe is worthy and meaningful. As Saint Paul says, “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow”(1 Corinthians 3: 7).

    Honestly speaking, the most challenging hardship comes from the political environment. Even though it is written in the Constitution that every citizen enjoys the freedom of religion, the Chinese government still regards religions as a threat to the communist regime, particularly, the Christian faith. We have seen that the central government issues orders and regulations to forbid children from participating into religious venues and activities. For them, this is an ideological war between faith and the Chinese communist government power and interest. Just recently, a local religious office issued an order to close Tian’ai Children Center, the center where we take care of children, because it is just located near the prayer house (Church). Obviously, the local government fears that children will be influenced by the Christian faith. Moreover, the Principal of the Primary School where children study threatened anyone remaining at the Children Center to be kicked out. Meanwhile, some teachers keep telling the students that the Catholicism is a heresy, evil organism, superstitious and spiritual opium.

    We have nothing to do except to verbally defend ourselves from these false accusations, and strengthen our faith that God is on our side for the good of the children and the society in general. This is the actual situation in China. While facing these difficulties and challenges, we must find another way to carry out our mission since we, CICM missionaries, never give up to preach and sow the seed of faith as our Founder Theophile Verbist did. As we recently commemorated his 150th death anniversary, his words are still resounding in our ears: “For those who love, nothing is impossible.” We count on your prayers and support for the sake of CICM mission in China, and for the wellbeing of the children we serve. (ASIA News Bulletin n°33, MayJune 2018, pp.2-4). ■