By Michelle Monica, Posts on Aug 14, ‘2005 11:59 PM
This is a journal I wrote when we went to donglv, China in July. Hope this can help you to know the situation in China today. May God belss you all.
As we have planned earlier, to pay a homage to one of the two shrines ordained by the Pope in China—Donglv, a village in the outskirt of Baoding in Hebei province. It was supposed to be a celebration for May, the month of Our Lady, yet because of all sorts of incidents(as for me, it was because of the 12th All Asians), it has been poseponded for so long. Now on the brink of Patricia’s departure, we decided to visit there in a group of four: Patricia, Annie, Sakura and I. These days the sun has not given up any oppertunities to scorch Beijing, and we automatically become walking Peking Roast ducks on errand outdoors with oily face and drenching cloths. It was an early morning out, as how it is planed,Sakura and I were going to take the train to Baoding and meet Patricia and Annie at Baoding train station. double-checking the ticket I left Abi’s place. As how Beijing waether always deceives the inhabitants, I went out without thinking taking my sunblocks and sunglasses in the cool temperature of the early morning. (Gosh I am still like this after living here for ages!)and I deserved all the pain that I suffered later. As how I always comfort myself, this is what a homage is all about, isn’t it?
Arriving at the train station on time, we got on the train and started to chat and read magazines that I bought before we took off, it was all nice, comfy seats, air-coned compartments, and lovely coulpe neighbors sitting opposite us. After the DVD night last night, I could not help dozing off as the train rumbled on. Soon after two hours, we made it to Donglv, an incrediblly small city that could not compare with the previous ones I have been to in China. Yet it was all very nice, except for the temperature and the sun. We decided to take a rest at the bus station next door, and kept contact with Patricia and Annie.About 11 or so, we found each other hugging and rushing to the bus stop nearby. according to Annie, who has already been to the village before, we needed to take number 7 bus to a stop called Caichang(vegitable market place) and then take another bus to the far reaching village. —–and that was how the real homage started. The bus was full of sticky and sweaty people. standing, sitting, cursing the hot weather, yet no one seems to make a move to empty a seat for our Patricia despite staring at her. It is understandable afterall, a western face in a small city like Baoding, attracts full attention that polar bear does to the people live along the equator. I wanted to help, by staring back at the people with condemning eyes. Yet no one ever cared to notice. Finally a young man, with self-made tatoo on his lower arm, made a compromise, Patricia finally got to sit at the back took a look at this small city that we need to pass through on the way to the shrine. The upper window on the roof were wide open. Wind constantly brushed our heads as a greeting to an un-air-coned bus in a less civilized city.
Talking about less civilized city, we did not know untill what is called un-civilized untill we got off the bus and walked for approximately 15 mins in the sun in seach of those private mini bus(black cars, as how we put it in Chinese)which would drive us into the depth of the village. The land was almost empty, looking up, it was the blinding sky with that rolling flamy wheel,looking around, it the wide, bright street with scarcely any cars nor pedestrains. 70% of my energy was burt out along the way of one hour bus riding, and 15 min walking in the sun. The sunray seems to be pointing bony fingers that kept on pinching the parts being exposed of my torso. I could nearly hear the sizzling of my skin. This is the hot dry sunny day in the North that we were experiencing…At almost the end of the street, we found a battered mini bus, after bargaining, we got on with a price of 25 yuan to the village. As soon as I sat down in the bus, I found my arms and legs dripping with sweat.sakura seemed alright, so did Annie and Patricia. This made me felt guilty: Am I the only one with such a bad physical condition? O well, taking out Kleenex, I tried to take a look through my misty eyes(wet from outside the eyes, luckily my eyeballs don’t perspire). It was then lands after lands of greenery, something that at least brought shades in my eyesight. Our car rolled on, on an uneven road, with yellow dust rising from the street covering the very front side of the road.
So there we were, in the middle of a city of walls. High, thick and dusty yellow brick walls. And that was exactly where people were living behind. It might be the hot weather, or some other issues involving with politics: It simply looked like a dead village except for a occasion peek through the half-open gate,that we could tell that there were people living in this village. However to our pleasent surprise, we found the interesting antithetical couplets that engage with Catholism. Almost every couple by the door is a praise to the Lord. Now this was rare to us, the residents of the capital of a country ruled by the communist party, happiness immediately submined to solumnity, we finally had the feeling of stepping into a holy ground, and as if I knew there were angels all around…The driver did what was requested, he took us right in front of the church. A newly built Gothic style church.
And we finally could say that we were there. An old man who was as skinny as a toothpick in thin, worn-out shirt suddenly appeared and asked who we were and what were we doing there. As soon as we answered all the question, and asked if we could take a look inside of the cathedral, he limped to one side door and unlocked it, “Did you all have lunch? If not, we will make you some.” The plate of virgin Mary hung around his neck shimmered, and at that very moment, I felt exactly at home. We did stop him of course. Understood, the old janitor quietly limped away.
What shocked us almost to tears was what was inside. It was a cathedral three times bigger than our South Cathedral, but the scene we encountered was more than we could bear. Deserted. Dusted. Empty. Liveless. The painting of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus in old fashioned Chinese emporess and emperor gowns was facing such a scene. The benches and kneelers have collected an enormous amount of dust as if no one has cleaned nor visited this place for several years. Yes…there were spiderwebs, between the corners and cracks of the wood. The confession rooms seemed newly pained, but the chair for the priest and the kneelers again were as if never been touched ever since the room was made. around the altar, everything seems to be bathed in a fog. The colors of platsic flowers faded natrually half because of time half because of the dust. Right,plastic flowers, here in the middle of the village no one ever could get decent lilies or roses for the church, or no one could ever afford them. Only one thing seemed to be quiet distiguishing was the red light that has always been on. Jesus is here. Perhaps that is the reason Virgin Mary could still present her graceful smile to us. Reassuring, I mean.
So we kneeled down, and stared, in tears and confusion to the very face of Our Lady, prayed, over and over again. As for me, I forgot all the things I wanted to ask for, but paryed for the entire village.
As we finished praying, we found the old janitor was already waiting by the door. He signaled us out, and told us that he will lead us to the priest here. There was this beautiful courtyrad of this cathedral. covered with unusual purple flowers. The door to the priest’s room was battered. But when we actually went inside, it was no different from the cathedral itself. except it was even darker, filled with dirt and dust. The wall was covered with old newspapers yellow from age. There was this small window near the top of the wall, and it felt like a cell. The bed was unmade, the sheet and quilt the preist was using seemed as if belonged to the fifty’s in the last century. With a desk against the wall at the entrance, made the entire room for this priest.The old priest was crooked and when he greeted us, we could hardly hear him. I wondered how the mass is like in this area, because even with microphone, his voice would still be hard to be heard. He reminded me of my great grand father who passed away at my freshman year in college at the age of 95. A walking museum. As this preist appeared to me, I believed that there were many I could learn from him. The history, the story behind, and what actually happened despite of the communist party orders. The priest was happy then, opened the cracked closet, searching from the bottom of it, got out the plastic plate with Our Lady on the front and the church of Donglv on the back. Walking towards us, he blessed the plates and carefully handed them to us. Lying in my palm, it weighted so much as a plastic. We felt like inquisitive chatterboxes, asking all kinds of questions about himself and the church. This priest is almost eight years old, according to my observation of his complexion, he was not in good health.I could not help wonder where any place near could this priest find a clinic or a drug store to alleviate physical pain, or he simply cling to his faith to our Lord. He had experienced the world war II, and the cultural revolution. Among the dust and mess on his small desk, he picked up a delicately framed balck and white picture, which stood out so particularly. “It was how the original church looked like…before the Japanese devils invaded. They killed, and rubbed the village, what was the worst was that they burnt down this Cathedral.” Gazing at the picture, I found it hard to imagine how gracefully the cathedral used to stand at this holy place. In the cultural revolution, all the church was closed or tored down, alomost all the priest went to jail or forced to work under the sun and lived with horses or cows at the sheds.This priest was lucky then, he was ordered to clean the street every morning and stopped doing services. yet that was all that who heard as to answer our querstion from our priest. I had the instinct that he neglected something, or deliberately left something behind. Sadly to admit, ever since the cutrual revolution, this nation learned how to lie and when to stay silent as self-defense. I am not saying that the priest was lying about the facts, but rather, he had left something in the drak ages for the sake of the safety of the three of us. The old man, fumbled all that he could share with us: the book that we later kept talking about the story of the appearance of Our Lady to the villagers, the postcards he bought last time he went to Beijing… Yet he spoke very little, just to briefly answer our questions. I felt this poor man had to carry so much and suffer to the great extent and remain unheard. I had the urge to do something just o help, and desperately I did not know how and where to start. In a village with such a high percentage of the Catholic population, there are just two priests around, one who had long stayed here, the other appointed by the government. I wonder if the preist ever felt alone fighting this silent battle. Outside it was still the sunlight, inside his room, I did not feel cooled off, in stead hundreds of questions burned on my back and I felt powerless to ask, as the father was powerless to answer. We left as the priest went back to his afternoon nap. this old man needs some rest from time to time. I did not know what react as to pose an appropriate farewell, so I left a note, promosing my return to the village one day and the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Deep deep down inside, I was praying there is one day, people are as familar with the Lady at Guadalupe as they are with Our Lady of Donglv.