A Catholic Monthly Magazine

China Growing up in China (Part 2)

Remarks recorded by Fr Bernard Jacquel, MEP taken from “Missions Etrangeres de Paris” May 2014

MEP logoThe community would gather in the courtyard of my maternal grandparents’ home. It was huge, that courtyard – it could hold five or six hundred people. High party walls bounded it and separated the property from neighbouring houses; a portal opened onto the street. The living quarters were at the rear: my grandparents lived at the rear of the house, while at the front a little room opened onto the courtyard: in this room there was an altar, and the Blessed Sacrament was kept there; it was like the choir of a church in the open air.

I remember, when I was old enough to go with my mother, morning prayer at six o’clock. When we arrived, the old people were already all there, they had come a long time earlier than us. They had had the time to make the stations of the Cross, to say a complete Rosary...No! No! Not a Rosary disposed of in three-quarters of an hour! For prayers said in common and the rosary we had kept the custom of a certain sort of chanting.

These old people had neither watch nor alarm-clock to awaken them at the customary time. It happened that some were mistaken: they would get up in the middle of the night thinking it was time, and would go and knock on their neighbours’ door to get them to come to prayers.
Chinese at prayerOn winter mornings, going out in the dark, you had the impression, while you still had with you some of the warmth of your bed, that it wasn’t too cold outside, but by the end of prayers you were frozen to the marrow! The people would kneel even on the ground except when it was raining, but some knelt even if it was raining. Under umbrellas and canopies.
It’s true. The Church and its gatherings attracted me from my infancy.

The prayers of the old people which preceded mine, impressed me. People’s prayers: a memory still linked to my vocation: I must have been five or six years old, my mother was pregnant and my father had to go away. One of my cousins wanted to be a religious sister: she would come to the house to help out and was spending the night with us....Several times I woke up...I could see her, on her knees, praying. I remember it very clearly. Vocation....I was about ten years old, and the Sister who was teaching catechism said: “One day someone asked children like you, among whom was St Dominic Savio: ‘When you pray, what do you ask God for?’ ‘Sweets,’ some replied. But Dominic said ‘A vocation”. And our catechist – sister told us “You too, children, ask God for what you want.” I remember having asked as did Dominic...One of my friends did, too. And now we are both priests.

The old people remembered the former church, the one taken from them, like the exiles in Babylon remembered Jerusalem! They prayed to see the new church with their own eyes before they died. At last the government granted us a large piece of land to build on. I clearly remember the laying of the foundation-stone of the church in 1992 – I was twelve years old, and the blessing of the church on the feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran, November 9, 1995. It was the first large church built in the diocese for fifty years! Ah! What a celebration! About twenty priests concelebrated, there were several orchestras, firecrackers of course, a traffic–jam all around; and the police were worn out... The mayor had been kept informed. But no-one had taken the time to invite the officials, and this was realised only at the last minute, so they couldn’t get there in time: they were furious! A real story there, certain functionaries were downgraded because they had seen nothing going on!
It was in the 1990s still : you remember, at the time of the events in Tien An Men Square, of which I have no memory – I was only about ten. The school holidays in summer lasted about two months. It was usually very hot at that time. A sort of children’s club had been organised for a whole month: they were numerous then; about four or five children in a family. We gathered from Monday to Friday from morning until the end of the afternoon, looked after by volunteers and catechists got us playing and taught us. But one year the police stopped our club operating.


Tienamin Square

I remember a feast of the Assumption at that time: we had gone to celebrate it at the river. More than 4 000 people were there, in the woods, beside the water. An altar had been made, and a stand for the Virgin’s statue: three groups of musicians, trumpets and drums: we weren’t stinting! Mass had been said, we were exposing the Blessed Sacrament, when police sirens were heard, and suddenly about ten vehicles, loudspeakers screaming, poured in. Our three orchestras took off, and all the faithful surged around the altar, which allowed the priest and the choir-children to escape...So it was the lay-leaders of the parish who were then called in to be interrogated.
Chinese MadonnaIn those years, between 1990 and 1995, the one-child policy was rampant. Medical checks were introduced, but many women didn’t turn up. The policy was put into effect particularly in the spring and autumn, with propaganda campaigns and police raids. ...They were expected. People at the entrance to the village watched out, and if police vehicles were seen, they would telephone immediately to warn everyone, the pregnant women hid...The police charged into houses, and if they found no-one there they searched it and pillaged it. I saw a house completely destroyed after one of these searches. There were five children in our family: for the first three, of which I was one, no problem, but for the last two it was very different: a nightmare for my mother, when she became pregnant, she felt betrayed. After 1995, that ended. Today, the situation is reversed: one of my brothers now has three children and he gets a family allowance! [There has been a relaxing of the one-child policy in rural areas, but in many cities it still prevails – Translator]
(Translated by Fr Brian Quin s.m.
To be continued.)

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