Missions and social works. Missionaries today

The fourth stage: beyond the bamboo curtain

Nine Chinese Augustinian Recollect religious stayed in the Chinese Popular Republic. Prison, surveillance, or public scorn would not achieve their aims. The Catholics walked for great distances to attend masses. Priests managed to administer sacraments and visit the faithful. Every Christian became a missionary. There were between six and seven thousand new conversions to Catholicism.

The old cathedral of Shangqiu has been the centre of Christianity and a place of encounter and of living faith since Nicholas Shi established himself there to dedicate himself fully to pastoral works. The old cathedral of Shangqiu has been the centre of Christianity and a place of encounter and of living faith since Nicholas Shi established himself there to dedicate himself fully to pastoral works.

The Chinese government brought about four great movements of variable duration and intensity. With the “Anti-imperialism” in 1951 they created the Patriotic Church; in 1955 they persecuted those who had not joined in with the “Elimination of counter-revolutionaries”: six Recollects were imprisoned. Two years later the movement of “Counter attack against the Conservatives” (1957) would arrive. But what the greatest effect was the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-1976).

A small letter showed a new beginning. In 1980, the vicar of the Augustinian Recollects in the Philippines received a message. It was Nicholas Shi, one of the surviving Recollects. He knew from memory the direction of the Vicariate in Manila, and taking a chance sent a message in a bottle like a stranded shipwrecked man. It appeared to be a greeting between friends and talked of scenery and memories that would not alert the invigilators of the Revolution. But in Manila it was understood. From this moment they set up a writing correspondence.

In the 21st Century the Catholic religious infrastructures have flourished. They were returned by the Government to the Church at the beginning of the 1990´s. A series of reforms firstly, and new constructions afterwards, have allowed them to have everything necessary for the pastoral attention of the faithful.
The Chinese, as seminarians, had been transferred to foreign places and were in communities like Taiwan and the Philippines. At the beginning of the 1980´s they managed to travel to their places of birth with Spanish, American of Filipino passports. They found their families and four Recollects who had survived. The first direct contact was with Nicholas Shi in 1981, after thirty years of isolation. From this moment there would be brief and constant visits to the mission from outside.

In 1987 the buildings of the old mission were returned to the Catholic Church. From 1989 onwards, with slow but continual progress, Christians began to celebrate publicly their faith. The mission now lives its second spring, now under the name of Shangqiu after the change in name to cities caused by the Revolution.

In the neighbouring province of Shandong Joseph Wang had had to flee his family´s home. In 1986 he started apostolic duties on his bicycle in Hezé, a zone with many Christians but no priest. Nicholas Shi retired in 1987 as an English teacher and returned to Shangqiu, where dedicated himself entirely to the apostolate. He managed to restart the religious life for men and women, and through many sacrifices and misunderstandings, also gained the respect of the local authorities.

Both were named bishops: Nicholas Shi in Shangqiu in 1991 and Joseph Wang of Hezé in 1996. Exterior visits increased from 1994 onwards and gave hope to Chinese Recollects. The emotional presence of their companions gave them strength and offered them the opportunity to feel like brothers, accompanied by the spiritual and material support of those who looked on them with great admiration.

The role of Nicholas Shi as organizer of the male and female religious life, of the clergy, of constant attention to the faithful and of dialogue with non-believers and authorities has been crucial to the return of Augustinian-Recollect religious life in China.
Nicholas Shi was a bishop, a religious superior with a wide range of responsibilities and formator. There came about vocations, conversions, the return of and building of churches and Cathedrals, a significant reduction in political pressure, new possibilities for communication and formation, the collaboration in development projects...

Joseph Wang passed away in Hezé on the 27th of July 2004, after untiring and endless work, a life full of witness and vigour. Nicholas Shi also passed away on the 16th of September 2009, at eighty-eight years of age. They were both formed the channel that united the old mission of Kweiteh and the actual diocese of Shangqiu, between the period of lack of communication and persecution and the present hope of a better future.

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Augustinian Recollects Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

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