I feel that I have been neglecting my devoted readers. The blog from Beijing has been a little difficult for two reasons. First, we have been going from morning until late (for me!) at night, so there is little time for Tim and me to blog. Secondly, at times it has been difficult to access the Loyola web site due to necessary updates to the web system. ITS often uses vacation times to this necessary work so it is understandable. I am grateful to our friends in ITS for their diligent work during the time most of us are relaxing with families or entering into the Christmas shopping frenzy.
Tim has already mentioned Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception but I would like to make a few additional comments , the photo of the Cathedral taken from about a block away was a bit of a homecoming for
an old Jesuit like me. You see the Baroque architecture that is traditional to Jesuit churches throughout the world. Even from a distance I knew that I would be attending Mass in a church associated with the Jesuits. Indeed, this church reminds me of the old Jesuit church in my hometown of Boston, “the Immaculate” on Harrison Avenue, the original home of Boston College. Notice that the churches share the same name indicating the particular devotion of the Society of Jesus to the Blessed Virgin. Upon arriving at the church, hidden from the street by a high wall and courtyard, I learned that this was indeed the site of the first community of Jesuits in Beijing. And Tim has already noted the prominent place of the statues of Matteo Ricci and Saint Francis Xavier (See the statue of Saint Francis Xavier above). It is also worth noting the difference between the two photos in terms of air quality. There has been a perpetual haze in the air since we have been in Beijing reflecting the coal being burned to heat frigid Beijing.
One of my faithful readers has asked about the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Chinese government which is, of course, officially atheist. Many will recall that the government understands that the Catholic Church in China is independent from the authority of the Holy See (or the Pope) and that this has been a source of tension between the Vatican and the People’s Republic and between those Catholics in the Patriotic Association (the church recognized by the government) and the underground church. In recent years, the Vatican has taken what might be described as a middle road; recognizing that the ordinations of the priests in the Patriotic Association are valid and licit and so the Vatican has given these priests faculties (or a license) to practice their pastoral and sacramental ministries. Thus it is perfectly legitimate to attend the Catholic masses offered publicly in China. The Mass that we attended was celebrated in English and all of the hymns would be familiar to anyone who attends Sunday Mass at Loyola. The sacramentary (missal) was the one we use in the USA and we prayed for Pope Benedict in the Eucharistic prayer as all Catholics do. In his most recent letter to the Catholic of China Pope Benedict XVI has urged both the Patriotic Association and the underground church to work for reconciliation and harmony.
About the Jesuits in China. The Jesuits and our lay colleagues who are here are representatives of the American Jesuit universities and not of the Catholic Church. The work they do in China is not pastoral but academic and scholarly. In addition, the focus of The Beijing Center is international and not domestic (note that the library is entirely in English and other western languages). Virtually all of the teaching is done by lay persons and the Jesuits provide pastoral support to the American undergraduates and the necessary link to American Jesuit universities who send their students to this great program.
I have much more to tell you about the Great Wall and the wonderful dinner with our students but I know that I am already late for my next adventure in Beijing. God Bless!