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Church in China

9 Sep

Stained glass window at the church in my hometown

When I’m in Shanghai, I am a regular visitor at the international Catholic parish that is close by my apartment.  Close may be a relative word – it’s a very fast 15 minute walk or a more leisurely 25 minute walk.  Given the heat that we’ve had lately it certainly seems longer.  When I first came to China I wasn’t sure about going to church.  As a Catholic I had heard stories about the Chinese government taking a cut of the donations, about them not accepting that the Pope has ultimate authority in the church, about priests being appointed by the government instead.

When I finally got up the nerve to go though, it’s a pretty normal catholic church experience – I go to mass in English and the majority of the congregation (I’d say at least 50%) is Filipino.  Like going to any new parish, I don’t recognize all the songs and at the beginning there were certain local customs that took a while to get used to, but perhaps the universality of the church does conquer everything.  There is one thing that is different than most mass experiences in the US or Europe in that the average age tends to skew much lower because people over 65 can’t get work permits to live in China.  Senior citizens tend to be the largest group back in more developed countries, but here it’s only if they are visiting someone who already knows where the church is.

There have been times when I have felt a little uncomfortable.  Every once in a while the priest will start complaining about Chinese government intervention and I always feel like looking over my shoulder to see if we’re being observed.  Even though I’ve now attended for a couple of years, it just seems that any one of the chinese faces  (and they are not many) could be a spy.  I am likely just paranoid as the Chinese government has far larger issues, but who knows?

In general though, church focuses me, allows me to put faith in something larger than myself and allows me to continually straddle the western/eastern world that exists in Shanghai.  I feel lucky to have my faith – especially because so few people born here are provided that luxury.

Have you ever gone to church in a foreign country?

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