In many respects the Faith in Asia is alive, vibrant and deep. As a banker who travels entirely too much, I am blessed to go to daily Mass in many different cities.
I notice that in the large Asian cities, Mass is often in the poorer part of town and attended by those less well off –at least from a material perspective. It is here, in the back streets of Asia, that one truly feels the Catholicity — the universality — of our beloved faith.
For instance, when I have the blessing to participate at the 7AM Mass at St Joseph’s in Beijing, joining a congregation with many humble, poor people, I truly sense the Spirit and feel Christ among them. Since my Mandarin is minimal, our communication is limited to reverent nods of "hello" and scores of smiles. Many mornings I am moved to pray the unity prayer "that we all be one."
I often search their tired and, in many instances, older, faces and wonder what these people must have suffered during their lives for the love of Christ. What they have endured to keep the faith alive — and alive it is.
Most weekday mornings, the Church is nearly full with about 150 or more worshipers. I notice that this remains the case even though the church is hot in summer and very cold in the harsh Beijing winter. The people are quite reverent and attentive. They seem to share a lively collegiality and friendship — evoking the bonds of solidarity that must have been shared by the first Christians as they suffered persecution. It prompts me to reflect sadly on how many in my home country visit their own parishes without seeming to know any one. Here in Beijing I see clearly our human need for communio , genuine fellowship in the faith.
The young and holy priests celebrate the Mass with reverence and awe. I am especially pleased with their apparent emphasis and deliberation at the consecration. All the proper rubrics are followed to the letter and I get the sense these wonderful people are, with deliberate purpose and intensity, fully holding fast to sacred tradition and the liturgy. Knowing their circumstance, I cannot help but wonder at what the cost is for them in social, political, and likely even professional pressures. The balustrade above the altar is inscribed "Ite ad Joseph" (go to Joseph) and it is a lovely though unadorned church.
While standing on the Communion line one hears ahead the priest say "Body of Christ" in Mandarin. It is always such a heartwarming and clear effort of welcome and affection that no matter which priest says Mass, when I get to the head of the line, I am welcomed with "Body of Christ" (in their best English).
After Mass, most of the congregation stays behind for prayers of thanksgiving and then after a few minutes a wonderful, at first low, then growing reverberating chant begins. When I first heard this I was reminded of The Tibetan prayers one hears on the geography channel shows about climbers visiting a mountain Buddhist monastery. It is a lovely and haunting melody that sticks with me all day long (though I do not understand any of the words).
Finally, after many months of attendance I was able to ask someone what is the lovely chant after Mass. I was so very pleased to learn it is the "Hail Mary."
The wonders and joy of exploring our faith in Asia amaze, humble, and edify. If you should find yourself in Beijing I urge you not to miss the wonderful opportunity to share the faith and love of our Chinese brethren.