Touring The New China Church

Fr. Kelvin Barrett
February 8, 2008

Two Columban priests learn about the Chinese Church’s exciting progress during a visit to Taiyuan.

On a chilly November morning, fellow Columban Father Pat McMullan and I made our way to the Beijing West Railway Station. Earlier that morning, we attended Mass at the South Cathedral, famous as the location of the first church built in Beijing by the greatest Jesuit missionary, Fr. Matteo Ricci.

This was our first visit to China and a break from our Columban missionary work in Korea.

Meeting with the bishop. Columban Fathers Kelvin Barrett (left) and Pat McMullan traveled with Sr. Clara Liu and met Bishop Huo Cheng of the Fenyong Diocese.

Meeting with the bishop. Columban Fathers Kelvin Barrett (left) and Pat McMullan traveled with Sr. Clara Liu and met Bishop Huo Cheng of the Fenyong Diocese.

At the railway station, we located Sr. Clara Liu, our host for the next four days. She is in charge of the Shanxi Formation Center situated in Taiyuan, the major city in Shanxi Province,  an eight-hour train ride from Beijing.

After clearing the suburbs of Beijing, we passed through flat and uninteresting countryside. In contrast, our conversation with Sr. Clara was far from uninteresting. She talked of the traditional Catholic villages where Catholics can trace their faith back many generations. These Catholics continued the practice of the faith basically unhindered, even during troubled times like the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s.

We visited two of these cities on our way to the ancient city of Pingyao. Pingyao is one of the few cities to have survived the chaos of the Cultural Revolution intact.

It is now being restored as a tourist city where people can come and experience China as it was. For me, it was a quiet step into Old China, which is very different from modern China.

Sources Of Energy
Sr. Clara pointed out sources of new energy in the Chinese Catholic Church. She delighted in the fact that there are many new religious orders starting in China. Because the new orders have small numbers, however, they don’t have the resources for the adequate educational formation of their new members.

In addition, much more formation education is needed for China’s Catholic laity and the continuing education of priests, Sr. Clara said. In response, the Shanxi Bishop’s Conference had the vision to start the Shanxi Formation Center.
The first students at the Center, founded in 2004, graduated in July 2006. Sr. Clara spoke with justified pride at this achievement, but emphasized much needs to be done to achieve the program she desires.

Upon our arrival in Taiyuan, we were greeted by Fr. Wang Dingyuan, the quiet and sincere vice director of the Formation Center. In addition to teaching at the Center, he was instrumental in making the buildings and grounds suitable for the program. His and Sr. Clara’s dynamism and enthusiasm for their work are inspirational.

Map of China

Map of China

We met similar zeal throughout our days in Taiyuan, where we were greeted warmly by several bishops as well as by the rector and students of the Formation Center’s seminary.

They all communicated the same enthusiasm about the bright future for the Catholic Church in China. The bishops, particularly, spoke of the need for exchange with other churches to enhance the education of priests, Religious and laity of China. They asked us to help, and we readily agreed, so moved we were by their commitment.

Such an exchange also adds to our commitment, as Columban missionaries, to the Chinese Church, which is at the heart of our Columban origins. It’s a good opportunity to further establish closer relations between the neighboring churches of Korea and China. In recent years, this contact has been growing steadily, but it’s encouraging to be part of this growth.

Now back in Seoul, Fr. Pat and I look forward to the times when we and other Columban missionaries can return to Taiyuan to help continue the exciting growth of the Church in China.

Columban Father Kelvin Barrett was ordained in 1969 and has served his mission life in South Korea, Rome and his native Australia.