She helped to define an era.
I have posted Good Friday photos from here in Beijing on our school’s Facebook page: Beijing No. 2 Middle School, International Division.
One of the priests at St. Joseph’s here in Beijing wrote this account. I should like to meet the ladies of whom he speaks.
“He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed!
Despite their apparent unsophistication, these women have a global sense that is surprisingly rich. Foreigners are relatively common visitors, and I am welcomed with curtesy but little of the wonder that is par for the course in other places. Despite their limited education, certain world events are discussed and analysed with as much enthusiasm as in Poland or the Spain. They will never visit France or Italy but they mention towns and cities in both countries with relative ease. I don’t know if any of these ladies have sons or daughters who studied in the US but it would be unremarkable if they did and they are in daily contact with returned graduates. Their sense of the august universities of US may be vague but are at most only one degree of affinity away from those hallowed halls.
The link that makes these village women global citizens is their Faith. With their sisters (and brothers!) in New York, Dublin and Bombay the ladies of XizhongYing face the challenge of making the love of God and neighbour alive. Through their Faith Jerusalem, Nazareth, Rome and Lourdes become barely less real and perhaps more emotionally present to them than Beijing or Shanghai. The network of relationships which follow faith has made their pastor a graduate of Catholic University of America and a Sister from the village a student at Chicago Theological Union. The new Pope’s election, is already old news even if the CCTV failed to cover the white smoke as the rest of the world did, and nobody had to ask who is this Francis after whom he chose to be named. These women may be illiterate, and have no access to the internet, but they the are connected into something which is bigger than themselves and which means the world to them.
The ladies of Xizhongying face a problem. Poverty in the Middle Kingdom, like Socialism, has “Chinese Characteristics”and rural poverty is proving particularly intractable. Though poor themselves, their faith demands they help those even worse off around them. They have reached the limits of individual charitable deeds and these brave women are dipping their toes in rather murky waters of organised social service in a Communist country. What may seem second nature in Europe or the ‘States is bewilderingly novel here. The impulse to serve the poor of course is common, but the stuff of organised charity, meeting, minutes, treasurer’s reports, fundraising, and volunteer management, is all strange and new for women who can have a deep impulse to love of neighbour, but have never even heard of a raffle, or a bake sale, let alone organised one, nor managed the proceeds for the good of the poor.
Often, for outsiders, the High Drama of China-Vatican’s on again off again relationship dominates our understanding of the Catholic Church in China. But for me the exciting story is in the experiences of people like the women of Xizhongying. In a small village in a forgotten part of Hebei, the yearly retold story of feet washed, a cross borne and an empty tomb offers and demands of these villagers more than the Confucian tradition or family loyalty expects. These ladies, rather than work out their response to this story on their own, are struggling to organise co-ordinate, sustainable charitable work. We may never arrive at announcements of “Bingo Night in the Church Hall” to fund it, but in the halting efforts of these women to care together for the poor around them I see evidence, if such were needed, that Christ not only washed feed and then died for us but that on the third day He did indeed Rise from the Dead! Alleluia.”
It has been several months.
Yesterday afternoon I went to see the movie, “Back to 1942,” grim account of the famine that devastated Henan Province during the Second World War. Some of the reviews from the States I have read speak of the film as being “distant.” However, this was not at all the case for me. Moreover, several of the students I work with are originally from Henan, and several of them have grandparents who survived this horrific episode in China’s history. The movie was not distant to these students. Just about all the students left the theater in a pensive mood. They were in the process of digesting a very grim visual presentation of a time in their country’s history that, until very recently, was largely unknown. Outside the theater, on a cold early Beijing evening, a group of students and I huddled together to have a brief discussion about what we had just seen. I hope to have opportunities over the coming days to speak more about this movie with them. In the movie the priest, played by Tim Robbins, says something to the effect of, “After 10 years in China, I thought I understood the country, now, after 30 years, I am not so sure.” I have been in this country now for going on a year and a half. My knowledge of China, not only its history and language, but also how the people here think, and what shapes and informs their thinking, is still skimming the surface.
This could sound a bit like “The Princess and the Pea.” Yesterday, confined to my apartment with the flu, I looked outside my window and down 8 floors. There, much to my wonderment, but not total surprise, I saw a car driving on the sidewalk, and slowly inching in upon a woman pushing an older gentleman in a wheel chair. This is one of those scenes that makes living in this city so interesting and comic. No one was hurt or startled by this. It’s all part of the strange ballet that is Beijing traffic, aka, the Probability Field.
Rain this evening, for the first time in any truly measurable quantity since perhaps September. This is good.
Here are some photos from around town.