Lintou (AsiaNews /SE) - The first contemplative monastery to be established in China since the foundation of the People¹s Republic in 1949 was officially blessed and opened on May 1 in Lintou, in the province of Shanxi.
The Monastery of St. Augustine¹s Garden was opened by Bishop Paul Meng Qinglu, from the diocese of Taiyuan; and Bishop Wu Jinwei, from Yuncheng, together with some 50 priests at a concelebrated a Mass in the courtyard of the sprawling building with over 1,700 people who gathered for the occasion and four bands provided musical accompaniment.
The inspiration behind the new venture, Sister Mary Niu Shufen, commented, "The monastery is not my work, but God¹s work, as he looks after both the small and the big work".
People from at least eight different dioceses gathered for what is being regarded as a momentous occasion, as what is always regarded as an integral part of the presence of the Church in any country, a house of contemplative prayer, has eventually returned to China.
The local director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, together with the local secretary of the Communist Party of China, both attended the opening Mass and congratulated the fledgling contemplative community on its achievement.
The 90-year-old Bishop John Baptist Wang Jin, from the local diocese of Yutze, was not able to attend the opening due to ill health, but he gratefully received an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis and imparted his blessing to all those taking part in the celebration.
The construction of the modern-looking monastery was made possible through the support of Cultural Exchange with China, a United Kingdom (UK)-based charity which has as its specific aim the building of bridges between the Catholic Churches of China and Britain.
Sister Niu said that she had always received great encouragement in her struggle to establish the monastery with its tiny community from Bishop Wang, as he had spent 20 of his years as a priest in prison, with 10 of them in solitary confinement, and has a profound understanding of the value of contemplative prayer as a result of his experience.
Sister Niu received her religious formation in an Augustinian monastery in England, which became her springboard for initiating the project to found a contemplative community in China.
"I am extremely grateful for all the support I have received in China and internationally," she said, "in particular from the Cultural Exchange with China, as without its help, this project would never have materialized".
The fledgling community is made up of three people, Sister Niu, as well as Sister Shi Kemin and Sister Wang Li, who were described as having the generosity of spirit to respond to God¹s call to what may be regarded in today¹s world as a rather unusual vocation.
Columban Father Eamonn O'Brien, the director of the Cultural Exchange with China, said "The opening of this monastery took eight years to complete. I remember standing on the site when there was only earth beneath my feet and the sky above my head".
He added, "I would like to thank all the supporters for providing financial and prayerful support throughout this period". The Irish missionary prayed that God will give his love to the future of the tiny community and bless it with adequate vocations to keep it viable. He especially gave thanks for the parents and the grandparents of the current generation, whom he said lived their faith in difficult times and passed it onto to the people of today.
For the Church in China, the new monastery is a place of contemplative prayer and a spiritual blessing, but for the government it is a home for the care of aged people and a conference center. Its many arms and legs feature meeting rooms and a gathering space or function hall, together with facilities for the care of the aged, as well as a chapel, cloister and the structures typical of a house of contemplative prayer.