11/11/2022, 10.57
CHINA-ITALY
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Remembering the Minims a bridge between Tuscany and Fujian

A congregation of Italian nuns tonight commemorates the 90th anniversary of the departure for China of six sisters who, in today's Mindong diocese, lived alongside abandoned girls in their mission for 17 years, before having to leave everything behind with the advent of the communist regime. A seed and a friendship with the Chinese people that nothing could wipe out.

 

Milan (AsiaNews) - "We will not go back for all the gold in the world. We are happy to be in China," these words were written from a Fujian that was certainly not the dynamic region of today, but a harsh land, where six Franciscan sisters of the Minimas of the Sacred Heart lived - poor among the poor -  alongside abandoned girls. These women religious lived a mission stronger than the ideological fury of Mao's revolution sweeping China in the troubled 1930s and 1940s.

Exactly 90 years ago - on 11th November 1932 - the sisters embarked from Brindisi for the long journey that in two months would take them to the then Apostolic Vicariate of Funing, corresponding to the present diocese of Mindong. They had ideally set off from Poggio a Caiano, the Tuscan town that was the cradle of this female religious congregation founded by Blessed Margherita Caiani. And they would remain in China for 17 years, until May 1949 when Mao's regime forced them to flee, abandoning a mission, a kindergarten, a school where they had made themselves well liked by the population, especially the poorest.

All this will be remembered tonight in Poggio a Caiano by a community that - despite the painful separation more than 70 years ago - has never forgotten China. The testimonies left by the sisters in their letters will be recalled in an event at which AsiaNews will also be present. "This morning," wrote Sr Salvatrice Agosti in 1935, "we found a basket with a pretty little angel inside on the street door handle. It is not infrequent that we find such a surprise... They bring us the dear little outcasts, like so many Moses, in a wicker basket, with little straw, covered with an old nappy...".

It was precisely this utterly selfless charity that made its way into the hearts of so many even in politically troubled years. 'The Mandarin called the local authorities to council to discuss our political situation with regard to the Chinese,' Sr Salvatrice would recount in 1942. They considered keeping us under surveillance, but one of them said: these women are good people, they look after those poor girls like mothers, they are not concerned with politics. Let's leave them alone, and if anything happens, it's my head. May the Lord repay these good people with the gift of faith'.

Their strength always remained their faithfulness to the Gospel, which brought them so far. "In this strip of China," wrote Sr Theobalda Colombo in 1947, "Heaven seems closer to us and the things of earth seem to us truly nothing. And although our nagging occupations hold us back and occupy our physical energies, our spirits, through the pure grace and mercy of God are continually occupied in the love of the Three (the Trinity ed.) who dwell in the centre of our souls".

With this same spirit they faced the precipitous events of 1949, when faced with the advance of the communists, it was the very people they cared for who convinced them to leave China, assuring them that they would take charge of their girls. "It seems to me that our mission is fading away," Sr Bruna Lorenzoni noted, "it will be what the Lord wills, so that having only worked for Him, we are resigned to whatever happens. We live confident and tranquil in the Heavenly Bridegroom who has always protected and defended us".

After that experience, the Minims would open other missions: they are still in Bethlehem, Jordan, Egypt, Brazil, Sri Lanka. But they have never forgotten China. "I met Sr Salesia, the last of the group of six missionaries who left for China and died in 1993," says journalist Mauro Banchini. "When I met her she was 83 years old by then. I remember how her eyes shone when I asked her what she would like most. Despite the fact that so many years had now passed, she immediately answered: 'To be in China''.

But it was also a singular design of Providence that kept this bond alive. This is recalled in the publication dedicated to this anniversary by Don Pietro Wang, the chaplain of the Chinese Catholics in Prato, an Italian city that has become a destination for thousands of Chinese migrants, located in the same province as Poggio a Caiano. "They came here to seek work, a better life, true happiness in God," writes Fr Wang. "Many have experienced difficulties. They always need the help, the love of God and his Church. Mission and charity continue today: the love of Christ urges us to walk with him towards the poor of our day, as the six Minim sisters did then. Let us contemplate and learn from the Heart of Jesus goodness, mercy, compassion, solidarity, preferential love for the poor, the little ones, the elderly, the sick, the excluded and all those who suffer".

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