One thing about living in a communst country and having a faith is that the songs that you have been singing for much of your life suddenly become very pertinent.
When you sing of the nations and justice and mercy in a place that is far from home and lacking justice and mercy, you deeply understand what the song author was meaning when he penned the words.
That being said, Chi.na is a complicated place. (no fake).
I am legally allowed to attend services at the International Fellowship each week. But no natives are allowed to enter because the gov does not control it.
If the big man in Beijng can't control what is being taught or said, then no natives are allowed.
Therefore, the only group that can teach freely is the international service. Other fellowships exist, but are controlled by the gov. And the pastors must be party members. And party members must vow atheism. Logical? Not so much.
There are several Three-Self churches (legal) in town, but they are in Chi.nese and controlled by the gov so I've never felt the need/urge to attend. There is a lot of research done on these places, and while I'm not really in the position to state what I think about them openly, let's just say that I want to keep my distance.
All this is to explain that being a faithful person and wanting a fellowship takes some seeking out in Ch.ina. Finding where you are safe, where the people are following true doctrine and not spreading gov watered-down messages, and where you can find true relationships with people without putting them in danger - is hard.
I have found my place here in the international fellowship. I have dabbled in the "underground" world and maintain friendships there, but choose to regularly attend a legal fellowship.
Well, a few days ago a friend asked me to go with her to english Catholic Mass.
English Catholic Mass?
There is such a thing here?
So we went.
The building is on Yesu Tang Lu (Jesus Lane). An off-street of a popular shopping district. I've walked by a thousand times and had no idea it was there. The building is a beautiful pale blue and if you were to crop out the rest of life, you would think you were in a developed country. It's clean, peaceful, quiet...a true sanctuary.
So what's the deal with Catholicism in Ch.ina? I'll tell you...
The Catholic churches are allowed to have mixed services (foreigners and natives) because they are gov controlled. The clergy are all Chi.nese. For our Saturday night service, the Chin.ese dude just read a paper in non-understandable English. There was a decent mix of Chin.ese and foreigners. Some of the natives were obviously just there to see what was going on. Others, had a good command of English and were involved. There is also a Chin.ese language service on Sundays, so those who come to the english service either do so to practice english, or to be a tourist.
Since the establishment of the PRC in 1949, all religions must exist under the supervision of the state. The Chin.ese Catholic Patriotic Association does not accept the primacy of the Roman Pontiff (Pope dude). The relationship between the gov and Rome has a long and tedious history (worth a little google search if you are interested in this stuff).
Catholics who are loyal to the Pope have suffered and still suffer family/job oppression, jail time, and martyrdom. The gov still prosecutes these "underground" Catholics, especially priests. (This goes for people of protestant faith, as well).
Hong Kong and Macau based Catholics have the ability to practice freely. But, Pope John Paul was denied a visit to Hong Kong in the late 1990's because it was deemed "inappropriate" by the big man in Beij. So there's still some weirdness going on there.
Our service on Saturday was nice. I enjoyed going, learning more about what is going on in my country of residence. I feel more informed, more tied to the people and their plight for eedom-fay. (pig latin, like it?)
I can't say I'll be going back again any time soon though. I'm not sure if it was the fact that I'm not a Catholic, or that no one could understand the priest, but the atmosphere was cold, uninviting, and impersonal. No one welcomed my friend and I, or even spoke to us. I didn't take communion because I'm not down with the mary-talk, but did enjoy some quiet time with the Big Man Upstairs.
Most importantly, it was a reminder to me to constantly remember the people who face hard times because of what they believe, all over the world - in my own city and far away.
I was really touched by the pertinence of the intercessory prayer that was printed in our pamphlets...
That our Holy Father and all bishops may be given light and strength to carry out their vocations, that gov leaders may work tirelesssly for that justice which is the foundation of peace, for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, that our society may be cured of spiritual blindness and rediscover the equal dignity of the unborn, the terminally ill, those on death row, and all who are oppressed, that those who are ill may be comforted, and those who have died may be welcomed into eternal joy...
So, so incredibly pertinent.
Amen to that.
walk slow. xoxo.