10/12/2013, 00.00
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A journey to Nanchang, the "cradle of Catholicism " in China

by John Ai
AsiaNews publishes the reportage of a Chinese Catholic, who visited the diocese where Matteo Ricci lived and preached. A priest tells of the challenges and difficulties of the Church today, with many signs of hope.

Beijing ( AsiaNews) - A trip to the "capital of the South" to discover the roots of the Catholic faith in China. This is where Matteo Ricci lived and preached the Gospel for three years , preparing for his mission to the imperial court . A strong and rooted Church, which addresses "just as in the rest of the world", the challenges of secularization.


Nanchang is the capital of Jiangxi Province with the population of 5 million. Four hundred years ago, Matteo Ricci stayed in Nanchang for 3 years, he debated with local scholars, spread gospel, and built a church there. Nanchang Catholic Church of Immaculate Conception is the only Catholic church in urban area, also the headquarters of Archdiocese of Nanchang. The church was built in 1922. The statue of Matteo Ricci erects in the of the courtyard. (See the photo attached.) The church also has a youth group now.

Protestantism is active in Nanchang. There are two churches belong to Protestants in the urban area. The communions are formed in colleges and universities in Nanchang. Some have a fixed place for worship and clergymen serving the students. In Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, some professors and teachers studied abroad brought the gospel to students. They rent a house for worship weekly. Although the church faces pressure from police, communion has continued for a decade, and authorities don't prevent private worship now.

A visit of archdiocese and a conversation with a priest

I graduated from a university in Nanchang, so I went there to see the changes and visit the museum. It was during the National holiday (Oct 1-7), the young people and priests went to Fuzhou (another city within Jiangxi, not the capital of Fujian Province) on pilgrimage. I talked with a priest and stayed a night in the dormitory. Here is excerpt of the talk in brief:

The new cathedral of archdiocese will be moved to suburban area, near the newly built Nanchang West Railway Station, while the old church will stay open. Though the project is still in the planning stages, government agreed to offer 50 hectares of land.

We talked about Matteo Ricci, he left invisible treasures for China, not only the Gospel, but also science, a Matteo Ricci center will be built on Mount Lushan.

The old bishop Wu Shizhen is retired, he suffers from a gradual loss of memory. So the new bishop Li Suguang, appointed by the Holy Father and recognized by the Chinese government, was ordained. The church is in the period of change, the old will retire while young clergymen are not enough, however it is also a problem around the world. The world is becoming more secular.

At present, there is no seminary in Jiangxi Province, we don't have enough teachers. But we plan to establish a tutorial center (preparatory centre or minor seminary) in the new cathedral in the future.

Since we have no seminary in Jiangxi, we sent the students or seminarians to Beijing, Shanghai and Hebei. It is not easy to train a competent clergymen, they must study philosophy and theology for six years, during this period they can consider whether to be a clergyman, some give up not until graduate. The success rate is not high. Some seminarians interned in our church, but not everyone were successful.

Then we talked about drinking wine. Drinking is unique tradition in China. The priest said Chinese liked to persuade others to drink at banquet dinners. He feels uneasy to attend the banquet with government officials. I told him that Protestants in China don't drink and smoke, but Catholics did, he agreed. It is common that many priests drink and smoke, I am not sure whether it is good or not. And I found cigarette butts in the dormitory.

The priest studied in Germany and visited Vatican City. He said that the church will choose some [seminarians] to study in Europe. We also spoke about the universities owned by church in China, he said it was a pity that the top schools like Yenching University and Fujen University were closed. Fujen was reopened in Taiwan, he said since the the tensions between Taiwan and the Mainland alleviated, several seminarians attended Fujen, it was a good phenomenon.

My impressions

History textbooks in China do not mention that Xu Guangqi is a Christian, he is called "patriotic scientist", Matteo Ricci presented a map of the world and a clock to Chinese emperor, but his mission is not mentioned.

The missionaries innovated China, we should remember their contribution and respect them. Many died for the truth, but in the textbook, they are still invaders. It is hard to invert the mindset dies hard caused by propaganda.

I visited Jiangxi Provincial Museum later. The ancient scholars and talents passed away, but their thoughts last forever. I read the articles and poems again. When I was in high school, I hated classical Chinese literature, I thought it was hard to understand but I had to recite for exam. I thought it was ridiculous that ancient writer always praise the infinite universe and sigh the short life with emotions, it made no sense. I even thought ancient people were too relaxed, they had nothing to do so they wrote poems and articles to raise vague questions. After graduating and gaining some experience, I realized that ancient writers had their purpose, they used their whole life to seek truth. Now I know that ancient people respected the heaven and earth, the tradition is lost now. Everything in the world is created by the Omnipotent, stars and celestials orbit in order like a precise clock, God should be praised.

After the visit to the church in Nanchang, I invited a Christian and a catechumen to travel to my city.



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