Representatives of A.I.C. and Vincentian Marian Youth visited Hong Kong and China from November 14th to the 25th accompanied by members of the Chinese province of the Congregation of the Mission. The invitation was to “come and see.”
The remarkable rise of China on the global stage in the last quarter of a century has replaced the image of China treasured in the hearts and imaginations of many Vincentians and Daughters since the middle of the nineteenth century. It is time to come and meet the ordinary people of China, people with whom the Vincentian Family can feel perfectly at home. By all accounts we met them. Their faces, smiles and laughter, and tears too, are embedded in the imaginations and hearts of each member of the group.
The pilgrimage – we thought of it that way – began in Hong Kong, where the Vincent de Paul Society, which has 30 active and dynamic conferences, introduced the group to their work in Hong Kong and explained the conditions for their initiatives in China. Their hospitality was exceptional. Coming in contact with the vitality of the Church in Hong Kong, particularly in its social outreach, was an unexpected blessing. Being the only branch of the Vincentian Family in Hong Kong, they were glad to welcome other members of the Vincentian Family and invited future collaboration.
In Beijing, we got in touch with the Vincentian story by visiting the four historic churches, commonly known as the North, South, East and West churches. The group attended the 8:30 Sunday morning mass at the South Cathedral dedicated to Our Lady. It was in Chinese, of course, though there are other masses in English later in the morning. The church was full, the liturgy beautifully celebrated and we experienced the fervor and faith of the people, young and old.
The time available did not allow us to travel much, but in our travels we met so many wonderful, Chinese people, young and old, rich and poor. It was meeting the people that made all the difference. They must have sensed we were happy to
be with them, because on every occasion they welcomed us warmly. Many were happy to have their pictures taken with the group. Someone remarked that it would be the faces of the people that will stay with us for the longest time.
One of our goals was to understand as much as could about the lives of people. We learned about the care of the elderly by visiting two homes for the elderly staffed by sisters, where the care was warm and personal and the elderly fully alive. It was a joy to be with them. On one occasion also we met some elderly people in their dwellings living in deep poverty. They were being helped by small groups of Catholics from a nearby parish. Remarkably their spirits were serene, even joyful, in spite of everything.. The impression was profound, some would say transforming. It will take time to absorb fully this experience
In particular, the A.I.C. and V.M.Y. members were eager to know about the lives and challenges of women and young people. We were fortunate that on several occasions the women and young people we met shared their stories and experiences with the group. One woman shared she was the only one in her family to do so in the face of this kind of “loneliness” was a beautiful example of real faith.
In the end, people made all the difference. The people in the group, the people we met and the people who helped us. The Chinese have a saying, “At home rely on your parents and family and outside rely on your friends.” Our friends in Hong Kong and China made all the difference. In one of the poorest dwellings, an old man, whose wife had passed away some years ago, prepared dumplings by himself to welcome us. They all taught us what hospitality and friendship look likein a Chinese setting.
The A.I.C. members were Laurence de la Brosse, the International President,
Natalie Monteza, the International Secretary, and Aliette de Maredsous,
representative of A.I.C. to the UN and other international agencies. The V.M.Y.
members were Yasmine Cajuste, the International President, Novita Nursaina from
Indonesia and Joshua Rey Albarina, the President of V.M.Y. in the Philippines. The
team was made up of Vincentian Fathers John Wang,, Pawel Wierzbicki, and Hugh
O’Donnell and Sister Madeleine Fitzpatrick, RSHM.
The Chinese province hopes to continue what it sees as its mission to
introduce the Vincentian Family to life in China.