What do you say before eating?’
‘What can I say before eating? I know that you say something. What about me? I don't have anybody to pray to. Could I just say “thank you” to my mom and dad?’
A twenty-year-old student of mine and I were having lunch together when he asked me this. I couldn’t answer well for we were in a restaurant where quite a few foreigners were eating too. I was surprised and at the same time paranoid in answering such a simple yet striking question. This young man tested my beliefs in a way he couldn't imagine.
In China, we can’t to be so open expressing our faith. That makes it quite awkward for a Catholic like me to make the sign of the cross before a meal or even call a clerical colleague by his proper title. This can be hard to adjust to at first. So before eating I’d rather say a short prayer silently and skip the sign of the cross. This can be difficult at the beginning but you eventually get used to doing your Catholic practices in a subtle way.
So I answered, ‘Yes, I think you can say “thanks” to your mom and your dad for giving you the money for the food you are about to have, and wish that they too may eat the same kind of food.’ He then asked, ‘What could I really say if I was like you? Could I possibly hear it?’ And so I uttered, ‘We usually say, “Bless us, o Lord, and this food we are about to eat. Bless those who prepared it and those who are not having the same kind of decent meal we have now. Amen.”’
I hoped that I explained the matter well and let him know what he wanted to know. I hope that, more than the words he heard from me, he saw something good in that practice that will make him think that I am a good person. Sometimes I ask myself if I’m still making sense with my life in China. Am I capable of changing the ideas and opinions about life of others by my own way of living? These questions can bother me. I’ve been here four years and the students never cease to amaze me. It's so strange how simple questions from them can rock my spiritual peace. I almost forgot to pray that day in the restaurant until the young man’s question reminded me that I needed to do so before I bit into that juicy, expensive burger.
By Sister Nellie Zarraga ICM
Going to Mongolia feels like going to the end of the world. From bustling Beijing or any other metropolis, one catches a plane or a train that flies or chugs over vast frozen steppes for a long time before one sees here and there evidence of life.
And life there is!
Sr Nellie, 2nd from the left, and Bishop Wens Padilla, far right, with friends outside a ger
By Dr Niels Peter Schmidt
Dr Schmidt, a dentist from Denmark, writes of his work in China with his Filipino wife, Babes C. Aguirre, who taught English in China as a member of the Association for International Teaching, Educational and Curriculum Exchange (AITECE, pronounced ‘EYE-tesh.’)
Recently, my wife, Babes C. Aguirre, and I, returned to Manila after one and a half years in China. Babes taught English as a second language in Guiyang Teachers’ College. She went as a member of AITECE.
Dr Schmidt at work, assisted by his wife, Babes
By Nicholas Murray
Nicholas Murray went to Chinaafter serving for 12 years as Superior General of the Missionary Society of St Columban.
I’ve been teaching English in a university in Chongging in southwest China since September 2002. I chose to work in this part of China because it is somewhat less developed than the east and the government is now making efforts to develop the west. Chongging is at the center of that effort. I teach Oral English and a course in Western Culture for AB students majoring in English. The latter course in particular affords great scope for communicating values, with topics such as the Bible and Christianity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance and Reformation, to name but a few.
By Father Seán Connaughton SSCA student for the priesthood in Ireland used to be recognizeable by his black suit, hat, tie – with white shirt – and shoes. While walking in a field with my father in the summer of 1955, he said to me, ‘You need new shoes. . . will I buy you a black pair?’ I knew that whatever opposition I thought he and my mother had to my desire to be a Columban priest was over. Maybe they’d never opposed the idea but there was no one on either side of the family who had ever become a priest and I didn’t see myself as particularly religious.
For a long time I had dreamed of being either a teacher or an accountant. A secondary dream was to be a horticulturalist, perhaps because of all the planting we did when I was a child during ‘The Emergency,’ the name given in Ireland to World War II in which we were neutral.
How many people actually live in China? The usual answer is that the country is home to about one-sixth of the population of the world. The census carried out recently, the first in ten years, may provide a more exact answer to the question.
Officially the population of the mainland is 1.25 billion people. But some experts estimate that as many as 200 million people may not figure in the population statistics. The main reason for this unknown segment of the population is related to the one-child policy that the government has enforced on couples for several years. Failure to comply with this could bring a heavy fine or even confiscation of property. A recent South China Morning Post article reports on one small farmer who was fined the equivalent of four months wages for breaching the regulations.
By Fr. Cathal Coulter MSSC
The Columban Missionaries were founded nearly one hundred years ago. Well, not quite. The co-founder, John Blowick, later recalled the first night the young students – offering their life for the mission to China – gathered together for prayer and how they read a passage from the Gospel which would be the guiding light of all missionaries.
Eighty-four winters have passed since the first group of young Columbans gathered for evening prayer in the old Dalgan, the first Columban home. There was no electricity, no heat. Seven priests and eighteen students sat a few chairs, some packing cases and boxes in a room lit by candles and oil lamps. In later years, John Blowick, the founder, would recall how he looked around and could see the whole Society, all twenty-five of them, all young men, all under fifty.
By Sr Tammy Saberon SSC
Sr Tammy Saberon, a Columban Sister, was missioned to Hong Kong from 1982-1991. Then she was recalled to the Philippines to do vocation work from 1991-1996. After her renewal in England for one year she received her new mission assignment to Myanmar. Below she shares with us how she is.
By the late Fr Aedan McGrath MSSC
Fr Aedan McGrath died suddenly two years ago on Christmas day. He was a veteran missionary from China as our story will show but he also spent many long years here in the Philippines promoting the Legion of Mary and a movement called INCOLAE, which sent lay missionaries from the Philippines to Oceania. While in China his passing friendship with the famous film star, Loretta Young, turned out to be a blessing which would help to save many lives. Read the letter which sixty years later or more he sent to Loretta. It will explain everything.
You have no reason to remember me, but I have many reasons to remember you and your name, because your name as a famous film actress, and as one working for the Church (especially with Father Peyton), helped to solve one impossible problem I had in my parish in China about 1939.
I was then about 30 and I am now 94! But I did have the good fortune to meet you in Hollywood when visiting there. I even knelt beside you in the chapel during Benediction, and we did have a little chat.
By Sr. Leticia Bartolome icm
They have been hailed as “new economic heroes” of the Philippines. The estimated 6.5 million Filipino workers in 180 countries endure enormous sacrifices to be able to send home their earnings. Other than working with the special people, Sr. Leticia Bartolome is also involved with these modern day missionaries in Hong Kong.