Look For The Springtime Of Faith In The Far East

Sister Maria Ko Ha Fong was born in Macao in 1950, is a Daugther of Mary Help of Christians since 1970. Sr. Maria recall the importance of the religious presence that strikes the conscience in this interview with Vatican Insider:

How do you witness to your faith in a hostile climate?

I am Chinese and come from a family with a long Buddhist tradition. Our family was, and still is, a small Christian cell in the midst of an environment of many relatives and neighbors that is almost entirely non-Christian.

My sisters and I studied with the Salesian nuns, and also attended their oratory on holidays. I wasn't attracted to the religious life in itself, and much less to the sisters' strange black habits, but I felt at ease with them, above all with the missionary sisters who spoke Chinese poorly.

When I reached the age of thinking seriously about my future, my thoughts returned often to them. It seemed to me a beautiful ideal, that of dedicating my life not only to a family and a few children, but to many youths and in a total, gratuitous way.

At first I didn't think that you needed a call from God, a vocation to do this; I concentrated my efforts on “my choice”, “my decision”, but along the process of discernment I understood that the religious life is mainly an answer...

It was all born with the conversion of my father who encountered the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the figure of Don Bosco. But not all my relatives are Christians and they are unable to understand my strange way of life.

Does your experience tell us of a simple, deep faith in a world in which witnessing is often complex?

They ask me, even in China, with curiosity whether I must always wear this habit, when can I return to visit my family, if I can eat at restaurants or go to the movies, etc. I try to make them understand that the consecrated life is not based on renunciations, but aims at something much more beautiful, to reach which one renounces certain means and paths.

This has caused me to reflect at length on the limitations and restrictions necessary in life. The consecrated life is an art that makes you live very much with very little, that launches the poor and limited creature towards the infinite, which makes the greatness of God shine in his humble little creatures. It is the art of Mary who exults in her song of the Magnificat...

“How can I show the people what I have seen?”, is the question of one contemporary Chinese poet. Mine is similar: how can I get others involved in the experience of beauty? How to transport the enchantment of this mystery? How can I arouse love for the invisible? How can I be, in my poverty, a sign of God for the others?

The situation of the Church in China: give us your evaluation

The development that the Church in China is experiencing, in these recent decades, is surprising. A Church that has undergone a sharp cut in its relations with the rest of the world and with Christianity for more than forty years, is slowly being reborn.

According to the statistics of the central office of the “official” Church in Beijing, the Catholics are more than ten million; more than four thousand churches reopened in the last 15 years; more than 70 bishops and around 1,500 priests. The regime has also allowed the reopening of a certain number of seminaries: a national one in Beijing, six regional ones, a dozen between provincial and diocesan ones; the seminarians engaged in studies are about a thousand.

With the policy of liberalization promoted in the Eighties, the attitude of the Chinese government regarding the Catholic Church has become more tolerant. Of course, only a few years ago it was impossible to imagine being able to give witness to one's faith in exterior ways, like for example with a public procession. The state continues to declare itself atheist and the persecutions against Christians, above all those against the clandestine Church, have not ceased.

“The situation”, affirms Sister Maria, “is complex and ambiguous. It's no exaggeration to say that, anything you hear about China is true in that time and place, and is untrue in another. Because of this, my experience of China is limited to the seminaries I have visited and in which I've taught in these last four years”.

Is it a young Church that will have a future?

Before 1950 there were in China more than seven thousand religious, and two thirds of these were of Chinese origin. After the rise to power of the Communist party, it was not different from what hit the priests. The closure of convents, the expulsion of the foreign religious, the internment of the Chinese in prisons or labor camps. Despite it all, many of them, heedless of the difficulties, have continued to live their own vocation in private.

Now, the religious life is slowly reemerging. Recently, many religious houses have formally or informally reopened their doors. The number of nuns who live openly, or in a semi-public state, is around two thousand. We know nothing, instead, about the religious of the clandestine Church.

The future of China lies in its youth: the Church looks to them with hope because they are capable of contributing to the collaboration and reconciliation of the official Church with the clandestine one. Freer from the weight of the past, they are able to live sincere experiences of fraternity and of friendship. Here there lies in the balance the hope that accompanies this slow blossoming anew of the life and of the trust in the “Christian culture” even on the part of the governing authorities of the country”.

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