Taking up the invitation of the pope to dedicate October to praying the Rosary and to mission we present today the testimony of a priest of the underground Church, whose vocation grew thanks to the Rosary prayed in his family, notwithstanding persecution.
Last Sunday, 1 October, Benedict XVI invited families and communities to pray the Rosary to support the Church's mission and peace in the world. According to tradition, the month of October is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary (7 October) and to the missions. We asked missionaries, priests and lay people of Asia to offer us their testimonies about the impact that praying the Rosary has on their life and mission. Today, we start with the account of a vocation of a priest from the underground Church in China.*
Northern China (AsiaNews) Despite persecution, in my province, the Church is very developed. The number of Catholics has risen from 50,000 in 1949 to 100,000 today. The number of new Catholics is the fruit of the apostolic work of young Chinese priests, formed after 1980. In recent years, the number of Catholics in the province doubled at least.
Thanks to the commitment and courage of our bishop, in 1986, there were eight priests, all elderly, in the province, but now, in 2006, there are 80, with an average age of 34. There are 15 seminarians in the underground seminary and around 60 members of religious orders.
How is faith transmitted in our province? There are many ways, but one of the most important is the family. Despite many challenges, faith is still transmitted within Catholic families. I was born in an industrial city in 1973, during China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). A few days after I was born, I was baptised by a lay believer, in hiding, in my family. This man is my godfather, a man who still now sacrifices himself and his interests for others. When I reflect on the faith I received, I thank the Lord who gave us these elderly people to pass it onto us.
My faith was influenced by my grandparents and by education within the family. Apart from the Chinese New Year, my family gave a lot of importance to Christmas. We Chinese Catholics live in a Communist, atheistic environment that denies, oppresses and derides religion. Although I received a Communist and atheistic education, my faith grew thanks to the witness of my grandparents and my family. Even during the Cultural Revolution, I remember that all my family would say the Rosary and Vespers together in secret, with the windows and doors closed: for more than 10 years, we spent Christmas night thus, without mass and without priests.
Due to its faith, my family was always under pressure and subject to many risks. Without priests or mass, my grandparents often used to tell us about the beauty of Catholic life in their birth place, but we youth had no direct experience of this: their words remained idealised, but our hope was a bit confused. I started to become aware of a change within me when I heard my grandparents talk about the Successor of Peter, about the city of Rome, ancient martyrs and persecution in mainland China. I did not feel I had a vocation as yet, but I deeply desired to be a martyr and to go to Rome on pilgrimage, and even to meet the Holy Father! My prayer as a child has now been realised!
My grandfather fascinated me with his reflections. He had received a good Catholic education from some foreign missionaries and this had permeated his life. Often my family would gather to reflect on the grace that God had given us on so many occasions. Reflection became a regular rendezvous, especially when there were Church feasts and during the Chinese New Year. Old and young, all sought to share the grace of God as we prayed together and invoked the help of God for our future! Thanks to this teaching I experienced, I learned to pray and to contemplate the presence of God, and I became a priest.
* The complete testimony of Fr Pietro Song Zhichun has been published in the AsiaNews monthly, October 2006.