Life of Chinese Catholics, Captured in Pictures

New Book Reveals Unexpected Aspects

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ROME, JAN. 7, 2003 ( A new photo journal captures the daily life of Catholics in China and tells of their resilience, especially after the brutal Cultural Revolution.

“The Flowering Treasure: Stories of Christians in China,” published in Italy, is the work of journalist Gianni Valente, of the magazine 30 Days, and photographer Massimo Quatrucci. They traveled from Beijing to the southeastern Chinese provinces of Fujian and Guangdong in July and August 2001.

The book includes stories such as that of Monsignor Lorenzo Bianchi (1899-1983), an Italian missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. That story centers around Niupidi, today known as “St. Joseph’s village.”

At the end of the 19th century, missionaries bought some fields, a hill and cabins in the area for $200. In 1923 the young Father Bianchi arrived in the village and made it his headquarters for missionary work in the region. A few years later, the village grew to be a small Christian town.

Niupidi survived reprisals from the Nationalist army, the Sino-Japanese conflict, civil war, Mao Tse-tung’s partisans, and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The Red Guards destroyed Niupidi’s church, but out of fear they left the nearby cemetery untouched.

“Once the storm was over,” Valente writes, “… the Christians were still there, scattered in hideouts, confused, sick and terrified, weeping for their many martyrs.”

When Deng Xiaoping ended China’s “difficult years” in the early 1980s, the little town of St. Joseph revived. Now, there are 1,500 inhabitants, virtually all Christians, with hundreds of children. Mass, catechesis and baptisms are part of daily life. A street and a school are dedicated to St. Joseph.

The local authorities resisted the rebirth of religious practice, but the people persisted. In 1992 they rebuilt the church, which faces the hillside cemetery where former missionaries were buried.

On the day the church was dedicated, they placed Father Bianchi’s coffin on the altar. The elderly described the priest as “greater that Mount Tai.” Then, turning to a statue of the black Virgin with almond-shaped eyes, they recited a prayer together: “All happiness comes from Mary,” which is now inscribed in the altar.

Valente says there is not a lot of difference in the daily life of faithful of the state-approved “patriotic” church and those of the clandestine Church loyal to Rome.

For example, Shanwei, a small church dedicated to St. Peter, is a few kilometers from Niupidi. It is a parish controlled by the government. However, behind the altar, there is a picture of Jesus handing the keys of the Kingdom to the Galilean fisherman. In the background looms the unmistakable cupola of the Vatican’s basilica.

Underground Catholics told Valente that many of their “patriotic” counterparts are sincere in their faith, and even remember John Paul II in their Masses.

“Indeed,” Valente writes of the “patriotic” Catholics, “the difficulties of these decades have only strengthened and made more steadfast their love for the Pope.”

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