12/03/2003, 00.00
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The Church in China: becoming a priest is not easy

Three priests and four deacons were recently ordained in southwestern China. Some of them are recent converts. Their ordination took place this past 28 Oct.  in the town of Chongqing, about 1500 kms  southwest of Peking. The dioceses of Chong­­qing welcomed the new priests Frs. Wang Wanhong, Xia Wei and Wu Chuan­lu; while  the dioceses of Wanzhou (Wan­xian) took in deacons Zhang Yonglin,  Jiang Weizuo, Huang Zhen'an and Peng Enbing. Both dioceses form part of the municipality of Chongqing.  Msgr. Giuseppe Xu Zhi­xuan, bishop of Wanzhou, presided over their ordination with 30 concelebrants from both dioceses and from provinces near Sichuan and Yun­nan, and Hong Kong. The new priests and deacons, between the ages of 24 and 34, tell us about their personal  journey of faith: Though sometimes difficult, it nevertheless led them to fulfill their vocation.

Chongqing (AsiaNews/Ucan) – Fr. Wang, age 34, got baptized when he was 19 years old. At the time, he was the only Catholic in his family. When he expressed his desire to become a priest, not only did his father opposed, but his uncle even tried to beat him. "The signs of the beating were still visible after a week", he added. Through the mediation of exponents of the Office of Religious Affairs, the family accepted their son's decision reluctantly. Seven years later, they, too, become Catholic. More than 200 Catholics in Fr. Wang's native parish in the district of Beibei attended his priestly ordination –the first ever in the area.

For Frs. Xia and Wu, their vocations were "natural occurrences", in that they were both born and raised in Catholic families. Nonetheless, it was not even for them to enter the seminary. Xia's vocation began in the mid-1990s, when he was promoted to director of a factory in southern China. His monthly salary was 3000-4000 yuan (around €360-480), much higher than average wages in China at that time. Fr. Xia, now age 30, recalls that his sister tried to talk him out of going into the seminary. Fr. Wu, who asked to enter the seminary after obtaining his high school diploma, was told he was still too young. He was advised to work and put away money for his seminary studies. During the three years he waited, Fr Wu, now 32, looked for a church to which he could dedicate himself. "Staying in close contact with a priest, close to a long black cassock, helped keep my vocation alive."

For the twenty-four year old deacon Zhang, choosing to lead the priestly life was not a natural choice: He was opposed to the idea of celibacy. Despite this, he was encouraged "to give it a try" by various Catholics. Among those supporting him was Msgr. Matthias Duan Yinmin – bishop of Wan­zhou and last Chinese one nominated by the Vatican (deceased since 2001). Then Zhang came to a decision: "Over the years, I learned when you need to make a choice, you have to give up something." First and foremost, there was the opposition of his parents. In the face of this, he found pivotal support by reading the bible and praying.

For deacon Huang, age 27, praying was never easy. He remembers always being adverse to prayer, because when he was little his grandparents would never let him go to bed without saying his prayers first. He discovered the importance of prayer when he lived in a parish while preparing to enter the seminary. "You have to feel the religious life," he said. "By praying you feel nearer to God, especially in times of suffering."

For deacon Peng, baptized only in 1994, the major difficulty in following his vocation was that he was not conscientious enough. Because of this, he recalls, he figured out the importance of maintaining a spirit of learning. Another problem for the 27 year-old deacon was his disagreement with the mentality of elderly Catholics.

Deacon Jiang, 32 years old, was baptized together with his parents at 18 years of age. Keeping his vocation was not easy, since he had to leave the seminary and studies various times for personal reasons. This prolonged his journey to prepare for priesthood in the seminary by nearly 10 years.

Msgr. Xu, 87 years of age, made reference during his retreat to ordination candidates prior to the ceremony, advising and reminding them to "speak fully, not half-way" and that, like Jesus, their commitment is the service that is only fulfilled with the support of the Catholic community.

With the addition of these three new priests, the dioceses of Chongqing now has 17 priests (three over the age of 80) to serve the pastoral needs of over 220,000 Catholics.
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