Lent in China: a more personal faith so as not to be stifled by atheism
The closure of parishes should push the faithful to an inner quest of faith. Such a time of crisis is also a time for deep reflection. If believers depend on celebrations and outer expressions of the faith, they risk being overwhelmed by atheism. People should ask themselves what we have gained and what we have lost since the ongoing crisis began.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – Fr Peter is a priest in central China. Faced with the coronavirus outbreak, he has started asking some questions. “What have we gained from this disaster? What was lost?” In his view, the government order to close parishes in order to contain the epidemic should encourage the faithful to engage in a personal quest of faith. “If we do not have our own independent beliefs, we shall be overwhelmed by atheism,” he writes. His pastoral experience follows.
At present, in more and more cities and villages the lockdown has been lifted. Many people looking for work have started packing, nervously preparing to go out to work in order to support their families again. Schools have not yet reopened. Students are sitting in front of their computers or mobile phones at home, playing with toys while listening to the online lessons. A few days ago, the religious department issued a notification, informing each parish that since “the matter of the coronavirus is not over yet, no parish is allowed to hold any religious activity; even funeral Masses are not allowed to take place in the public.”
When one parishioner died, religious rites could only be held at his house, and quickly. The Catholic Church in China seems to have entered an empty wilderness, quiet without any sound. This is literally Lent, which leads each Catholic, even the whole Church, into a great retreat to reflect upon the faith.
All the churches have responded to the coronavirus crisis by suspending public Masses. Our expression of the faith has shifted from large public gatherings in church to private places of the faithful. This sudden change has led to a very different understanding of the ways and depth of our faith. At such a time, many of our parishioners feel that the Catholic faith is so close to them, something they never experienced before. For them, the Catholic faith one meant going to church to be present at the holy Mass and other parish activities, that is all.
At the same time, they are deeply aware of the importance of practising their Catholic faith in the family as each family is a very important base to learn about the faith. Due to changes in the ways of faith, we have different understandings of our faith. At a time of disasters, the range of our faith begins to extend from our own small circle, flowing from our own body to the whole world like blood. By reciting the Rosary, we pray for countries around the world, for doctors and nurses who are struggling in hospitals, so that this disaster can end as soon as possible. Of course, while praying, we have not forgotten to give to our brothers and sisters in need, especially in Hubei, the disaster area.
At a time of no Mass or Church festivals, many parishioners insist on reading the Bible, especially the daily Mass reading. Some parishioners have taken up their pen and insisted on copying the Bible every day to remember and deepen their mission and responsibility as Christians.
After Ash Wednesday, our parish encouraged and appealed to all parishioners to be with their families as much as possible to meditate on the suffering that Jesus bore for us in the 14 Stations of the Cross. Especially with respect to children, they must nurture their Catholic faith from an early age, and give them a chance to experience the faith in person.
It is undeniable that we also saw some things that are concerning about our faith during this period when all churches are closed due to the coronavirus. The superficiality and dependence of our faith also requires some deep reflection. When faith becomes part of our life, we suddenly feel uncomfortable when that part is messed up, just like in this particular period.
The Chinese Catholic Church as a whole, without exception, has cancelled all public Mass activities. For many Catholics, this has been hard to take. We have moved from one set of already known expressions of our faith in the church to the online world in the age of the Internet.
All sorts of religious practices are available on our computers and mobile phones: watching Mass, listening to sermons, spreading all kinds of prayers, something hard to understand. What we need to do is not move the expression of faith from our churches to Internet, but accept to transfer it into our lives for this short special period. What seems to be a superficial practice of our faith makes us clearly realise our dependence on our faith.
We can express our living faith only when we gather with many brothers and sisters, but once we are alone, we risk becoming atheists. Many Catholic have never prayed, never read the Bible, who have no religious thoughts, nor talked with God since the outbreak began. Those whose Catholic faith depends on reciting prayers and singing hymns together with others and follow them into the church every day will naturally find no traces of faith in their lives when their church group is gone. What is more, as China experiences greater urbanisation and higher educational levels, church groups become more dispersed. If we do not have our own independent beliefs, we shall be overwhelmed by atheism.
Lent this year does not belong to the Catholic Church alone, but to the whole of China. In this unusual holy period, we need to regain our ability to reflect. Today’s social environment is full of too much entertainment and boring information. Many Catholics are attracted and tarnished by them, losing their courage to reflect. All disasters are gifts from God, and reflection is the only way to identifying this precious and painful gift. What have we gained from this disaster? What was lost? What should we do after this disaster and how can we do it? After reflecting, our specific practice in life can appreciate the value of this gift.