Pilgrimage to China

Sisters, Vinie and Emily in traditional dress to celebrate Fiji day.  Sisters, Vinie and Emily in traditional dress to celebrate Fiji day

Our tour was put together by Dr. Jeremy Clarke PhD, CEO of Sino Immersions, Manly, NSW in conjunction with the Editor of the Australian Far East magazine, Mrs Janette Mentha. The tour was led by Columban Frs Tommy Murphy and Dan Troy.

As with any holy pilgrimage, God’s grace goes with the group. In our case, just prior to the start of our journey, the Holy Spirit set the agenda with a message from Pope Francis to the Catholics of China and to the Universal Church announcing the first formal agreement between the Vatican and the current Government in Beijing on the appointment of bishops in China.

With his letter the Pope has reunited all Catholics, both those practising in the underground Church in China and those practicing under the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association with the Universal Church.

Pilgrims on the steps on the newly built church of the Trinity. Pilgrims on the steps on the newly built church of the Trinity.

During a reflection session, Fr Tommy said that as pilgrims we joined Columbans in their mission work in China. So the pilgrimage began.

On our first day in Hong Kong a small group of us visited Macau which was originally a Portuguese trading post. This became an important base for early Christian missionaries like St. Francis Xavier who stayed there on his way to Japan and the Italian Jesuit, Fr. Matteo Ricci, the founder of the Church in China, who studied Chinese there before embarking on his mission activity in Beijing in 1582.

The next day we visited the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Hong Kong. Local guides took us on an hour-long tour through the Cathedral. These women were dedicated volunteers who conduct regular tours for visitors to the cathedral. What was outstanding: the tour was an actual catechesis of our faith.

The Church of the Trinity Church band. The Church of the Trinity Church band.

The afternoon was spent at the Columban Headquarters which is located in the mountains outside Hong Kong where we met with the General Council Members who spoke to our group and answered questions about the Columbans and their current mission work.

We then met with the Columban Lay Mission Leadership Group who inspired us with their stories of why they joined the Lay Missionaries and the work that they were doing.

Our final guest speaker was Jackie Hung, Director of the Justice and Peace Commission for the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese. This inspiring young woman told of her work in social justice in Hong Kong and the difficulties she encounters in this work. She had been arrested on a number of occasions in her support of social justice issues and is undaunted in her quest.

From Hong Kong we flew to Wuhan, where Fr. Galvin and his 14 companion Columbans arrived in 1923 to commence the China Mission. Bishop Galvin remained in the Hanyang Diocese, Wuhan until his expulsion by the Communists in 1952.

Fr Brian Glasheen and Fr Tommy Murphy. Photos: © J Mentha Fr Brian Glasheen and Fr Tommy Murphy. 

Our visit to St. Columbans Cathedral in Wuhan was a memorable one; when taken over by the Communists the building was turned into a factory. It was later returned to the Church and was restored and reopened in 1990.

Here we were joined by nine sisters of the Order of Our Lady of, Hanyang originally founded by Bishop Galvin, and still maintaining their good works in the diocese. The Sisters live in a convent at the rear of the cathedral. Following Mass which was attended by some local parishioners, we enjoyed a Chinese lunch provided by the local parishioners.

The next day took us into the surrounding countryside, to the town of Xianto where the Columbans had worked. Arrangements had been made for Mass to be celebrated in the local church. Fr Dan Troy said that there may be a few locals coming to Mass – well it was more than a few. On arrival we were greeted by the sounds of singing coming from the church; we entered into a church full of local people, old, young, middle-aged, women and men all singing hymns. Mass said in English was a truly universal celebration, with Columban Fr Antonio Seok Jin-Wook from Korea now working in Taiwan as main concelebrant, with Fr. Bernard Dennehy, a Kiwi from our group and Irish born Fr Dan Troy from Taiwan, assisted by Deacon Peter Dong, a Chinese Columban to be ordained in January for work in Pakistan. They were assisted by four local acolytes.

Celebrant Fr Antonio Seok Jin-Wook  with Deacon Peter Dong. Celebrant Fr Antonio Seok Jin-Wook with Deacon Peter Dong.

While the Mass was in English, Fr Antonio addressed the congregation in Chinese and invited our Chinese hosts to sing the Our Father in Chinese. At the conclusion of Mass, it was moving to see the local people coming forward to receive individual blessings from the priests. Many of them were elderly and had suffered during the times of the persecution. We were then escorted to a nearby hall for lunch where we enjoyed the local cuisine provided by the parishioners.

In the afternoon we visited the new diocesan centre where the new Church of The Trinity was in its final stages of completion. While partaking of afternoon tea in the grounds, the parish band arrived, back from playing at a funeral; they gave us an impromptu performance to which we responded with Waltzing Matilda.

Next we took a train to Nangfeng. It was in Nangfeng in 1929 that young Columban, Fr Timothy Leonard, was taken from his church by bandits and shot in a nearby bush. We attended Mass in that same Church and visited Fr Leonard’s grave and tomb, which now stands on a hill in a local mandarin orchard. It has been lovingly restored and is cared for by local Catholics; here we gathered in prayer.

Monica at the tomb of  Fr Timothy Leonard. Monica at the tomb of Fr Timothy Leonard.

After an overnight stop in Shanghai we travelled some 1200 kilometres to Beijing by bullet train at speeds of up to 300kph. Our hotel was located next door to St. Joseph’s Cathedral which offered us the opportunity for 6.30am Mass which I attended with about 60 local people. It was here in this Church that we celebrated our farewell Mass.

The next day was sight-seeing to the Great Wall. The bus ride was an opportunity for Fr Tommy Murphy to address the group and remind us of what Bishop Galvin had said when he went to China – “We are here to do the will of God.” He then asked us to reflect on what our role was on this trip and what it might be when we returned home.

Fr Tommy Murphy then took us to visit the tomb of Fr Matteo Ricci and some 69 early European missionaries after which we had a brief visit to Tiananmen Square and the Ancient Observatory where Jesuit missionaries worked in the 17th century.

On the final day of the pilgrimage Fr Tommy arranged for a visit to the Beijing seminary, where he works as a Spiritual Director to ten seminarians. The President of the seminary, Bishop Joseph Li Shan, newly joined to the Universal Church by Pope Francis, invited our party to celebrate Mass in the college chapel. Here we were joined by the 69 seminarians for fifteen minutes of prayer prior to lunch.

This celebration of Mass with the future of the Chinese Church was a fitting end to what had been a packed and spiritually enriching pilgrimage.

Please remember the Church in China as it moves forward.

Ray Lowe, Member of the Bunbury Diocesan Social Justice Committee
Photos: © J Mentha

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