06/15/2010, 00.00
CHINA – VATICAN
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From Shanghai to Rome, the joy of being a priest in the Year for Priests

by Matteo Chu, sj
After 27 years of forced labour, Fr Matteo Chu is now a priest in Taiwan, happy to be in Rome to celebrate the end of the Year for Priests. He appeals and prays for priests in the People’s Republic of China.
Rome (AsiaNews) – "Follow me!" Jesus said. Such words were enough to motivate Matthew, a tax collector sitting at a booth, to get up and follow Him. Sixty years ago, I graduated from high school and had the same thought and determination as Matthew did to follow Jesus. So I entered the Xujiahui Seminary in Shanghai and studied there. After three years, as a seminarian never involved in politics, I got caught up in the political turmoil caused by the incident of September 8, 1955 (when Bishop Ignatius Kung Pin-mei of Shanghai and 200 priests also from Shanghai were taken into custody). Hence, I was imprisoned for Jesus Christ.

During my 27 years of imprisonment in reform-through-labour centres, I had to do planting, reaping, picking up mud, pushing carts and keeping bees in the vast farms. God's plan was to test my vocation. He was looking at me and said, “Now you are in jail. Do you really want to follow Jesus?”

In the last 10 of the 27 years of labouring in fields, I gained some degree of freedom. In those days, I could secretly listen to Vatican Radio’s Mandarin programmes. My whole spiritual life, my knowledge of Church teachings and news about the Church all depended on the radio, which helped nourished my spirituality. It became my greatest spiritual strength. How I acquired it is a secret.

Lord Jesus! My will was steadfast. I would get out of jail some day. I would still follow you closely. The Lord's hand gradually led me to the United States, to accompany Bishop Kung for one year, where I assisted him in his Masses and chatted with him. At that time, I also took up some classes on Church liturgy.

Matthew got up and followed Jesus. I decided to go to Taiwan, where I entered the Faculty of Theology at Fu Jen Catholic University. There, I studied theology for four years. I was ordained a priest at the age of 60 at Holy Family Church in Taipei. My 95-year-old mother and five sibling brothers from mainland China (on opposite side of the Strait of Taiwan) came to take part in my ordination. It was miraculous for all of them to come—no one was absent. It was God's greatest grace and care for our family. We gathered at the Holy Family Church in Taipei. At the ordination Mass, I expressed my heartfelt thanks to God, and promised Him I would be loyal to my ministry, and live it out during my priesthood.

Today, at the conclusion of the Year for Priests, I was honoured and blessed to be in Rome to be together with 15,000 priests for the three days of activities (of the International Meeting of Priests), which we spent with the Holy Father and prayed together. The Holy Father said, "Do not look at your ministry as a profession. The priestly ministry is not a job, but a witness of love. A priest's mission is to be a witness of love, and prayer is the primary task of pastoral work." During the three-day activities, we concelebrated with the Pope, and were filled with joy and blessings.

On June 11, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the conclusion of the Year for Priests with a solemn Mass. At St Peter's Square, the Mass saw the participation of 15,000 priests who came from 97 different countries, each in a white alb and a stole, just like the portrait of parish priest of the holy Curé d’Ars St John Vianney, concelebrating with the Holy Father. This way, the whole of St Peter's Square was turned into a large altar. In his homily, the Pope entrusted an important task to the weak, which is to make mankind aware of His presence and love.

The pope’s homily was enriching and filled with emotions. He touched upon the heart of priestly vocations. Not only did he explain the sacred source of priestly vocations, but he also did not conceal the weakness and limitations of human beings, thus revealing the darker side of humanity.

The Pope said, “God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf. This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings—who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead—this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word “priesthood”. That God thinks that we are capable of this; that in this way he calls men to his service and thus from within binds himself to them.”

Then, the Holy Father said that the priesthood’s new radiance will not please the “enemy”, who “would rather see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world.”

By reflecting, meditating and praying during this Year for Priests, priests should do good, and live out the priestly ministry. That is our determination.

During this Year for Priests and at this great gathering of priests, we chatted, talked and exchanged information about our experiences. I remembered our fellow priests in mainland China because that is where I came from. Although I am now freer than you are, I know your situations, I know your hardships, and I know how difficult it is for you to do evangelisation work.

For all this, I can be silent, and kneel before the Blessed Sacrament to tell Jesus Lord! Jesus! Almighty Son of God, you are almighty, may I plead with you to give mainland priests strength and hope. Please let them, priests of the mainland, be entrusted in the hands of Father Matteo Ricci and Paul Xu Guangqi who are in Heaven, and whose cause of beatification is now starting in Rome.

Some day we shall meet in Rome. Then, mainland priests can make a pilgrimage tour, as well as bring delegates from your dioceses to Rome to celebrate. Dear fellow priests on the mainland, we always keep you in our prayers. Let us pray for each other.

On the day of the Pope’s public audience, I presented to the Holy Father a precious portrait of the Our Lady of Sheshan in China. It represents the reverence of mainland Chinese clergy and faithful.

The Pope loves China and is concerned about the Church in China. He loves Our Lady Help of Christians in Sheshan, and for this reason, he invites the Universal Church to pray to the Blessed Mother for the Church in China.

The portrait of Our Lady of Sheshan will be placed in the Pope's study. The Holy Father will be able to pray for us and for the suffering Church of China every day in front of Our Blessed Mother.

Our Blessed Mother, the Pope will always be with the Church, until the day the Church in China is truly free.

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