04/06/2011, 00.00
CHINA
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Qing Ming, the Church closest to traditional Chinese culture

by Wang Rui
The traditional festival expresses respect for the dead with visits to the cemetery, firecrackers, offerings of food and beverages. Catholic converts often oppose these rites, and are accused of lacking in filial piety. But there are those in the Chinese Church who work for inculturation.

Chengdu (AsiaNews) - " It drizzles thick and fast on the Mourning Day, The mourner travels with his heart lost in dismay." This poem by Du Mu, the great poet of the Tang period, perfectly describes the character of the festival celebrated yesterday, Qing Ming, in which relatives of the dead go to their graves to clean them of grass and earth. During the period of Qing Ming in fact, it rains every day and people's hearts are touched by the memory of lost relatives. This festival also reminds that "life is short, the year is ruthless and affection of the family is great".

The Qing Ming festival dates from the time of the Zhou Dynasty (XII - III century BC.) And has over 2500 years of history. It marks the beginning of "clear and bright" time (translation of "Qing Ming"), higher temperatures, the ideal time for spring sowing.

Over 2000 years of history are rooted in the heart of the Chinese, so that believers and non-believers, the tender and the hard-hearted, observe Qing Ming and go to the cemetery before the graves of their ancestors to perform  ritual expressions of filial piety: burning sticks of 'incense, lighting firecrackers, burning paper money, offering fruits, sweets or wine, bowing their heads in greeting.

During this time, wherever they are, the Chinese try to return home to visit the graves of their loved ones. They display their photos at home or at the cemetery and make offerings to comfort the dead as a sign of respect and gratitude.

Among Catholics, especially among converts, there is a certain embarrassment at following these rituals. In the tradition of the Church, the most beautiful way to remember the dead is praying for them at a memorial Mass. Because of this, they tend not to give importance or not to practice the ancient ways of China. Sometimes, in families, between Catholic convert and non-Catholics relatives tensions arise and Catholics are accused of being devoted to God, but devoid of filial piety, of forgetting the dead, thus generating a resentment towards the Church.

On questioning a number of priests about the activities they had proposed for Qing Ming, I received a short answer: no. Thank God, in the diocese of Nanchong (Sichuan), a priest, Fr Chen Gongao celebrated a Mass for the deceased at the cemetery in Xishan, in the Benedictine monastery of Nanchong (see photo). Thus, even non-Catholic people attended the Mass and began to see that the Church is close to Chinese culture and inculcates respect for the dead and filial piety.

Through the Mass for the dead, many people feel a greater affection and care for the church. Ms. Li says. "I am not a believer, but my mother was. When she died, she expressed the desire to be buried here. We rarely come, but our hearts can not forget the love that our mother had for us. Today, Fr. Chen celebrated mass, and so we could express our love for our mother as she would have wanted. At the same time, through the ritual, we understand why my mother believed in God and the Church: the Church is aware of the profound needs of people and always shows God's love, caring for the needy. We are very happy. "

To reach out to traditional ways of celebrating the respect for the dead, the cemetery of Xishan (Catholic), is also equipped with a well in which to light firecrackers. If the Church integrated more with traditional Chinese culture, it would be much more easily accepted by Chinese people.

Fr Chen is studying ways to integrate some elements of the Chinese tradition in the liturgy. This too is evangelisation.
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