The diocese of Nanjing mourns the death of a 104-year-old nun. Already in 1945, before the advent of the Communists, she had taken vows for the Daughters of Charity. Sent to work in the factory during the Cultural Revolution, she said of that very hard time: "I never lost hope because I had faith in God". It was only at the age of 64 that she was able to return to her ministry in the city of Wuxi. In 2000, she had the joy of meeting John Paul II in Rome.
Nanjing (AsiaNews) - Nearly eighty years of religious life lived through even the most difficult times for Catholics in China. This is the story of Sr. Jiang Lihua, a religious sister who died yesterday in the Chinese province of Yangsu.
Born on 29 December 1918, she was 104 years old when she died (calculated as 106 according to the Oriental count, based on lunar birthdays). Born into a Catholic family for generations, she joined the congregation of the Daughters of Charity in Shanghai in the 1940s and took her first vows in 1945.
She was therefore one of the faces - by now increasingly rare in China - of that generation of priests and nuns formed before Mao's Communist Revolution and who, after the expulsion of all foreign missionaries, found themselves having to live the test of fidelity to their vocation in the new context that had been created from the 1950s onwards.
Sr. Jiang had told her story personally a few years ago in an interview and in a video published by the UcaNews agency, during a stay in Hong Kong. The elderly nun - already then on the threshold of one hundred years of age - recalled the harshest years, those of the Cultural Revolution, when in the ideological fury of 1966 she too was sent back by the Red Guards to her home village in Yangsu. Even some of her relatives, she recounted, viewed her with suspicion because she had been a nun. She was sent to work in a food factory.
"Life was worthless in those days," she recalled. "No one paid any regard to you. "Someone told me to get married but my sister did not agree. I did not want it too. I believe God would arrange everything for me."
Her strength in those years was fidelity to prayer: "I did not recite the prayers in front of others," she still recalled, "but deep in my heart, without texts but from memory, I asked God's help not to be tempted to fall and to have the possibility of returning to my congregation. I never lost hope because I had faith in God."
That wish could come true with the first openings of the 1980s: it was then that Sr Jiang, then 64, was able to return to work for the Church in the city of Wuxi in the diocese of Nanjing. And she continued to faithfully carry out her ministry there ever since.
Of those early years, she recalled in the interview with UcaNews the challenge was to return to transmitting the faith: "Every summer we organised catechism and Bible study courses for children, with about 200 participants."
On the occasion of the Jubilee of 2000, thanks to a special permit, she was able to travel to France to the mother house of the Sisters of Charity. During that trip, she also went on pilgrimage to Rome and had the opportunity to meet John Paul II personally. On her return to China, however, she had kept the photograph of that meeting hidden for some time, for fear of possible sanctions by the local authorities.
In 2016, reflecting on her ministry she said: "I cannot make any difference to the world at this age but I believe that God has his own plan for the Catholic Church in China."