In the late 1940s, as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) advanced towards Wuhan, located on the Yangtze River 500 kilometers inland from Shanghai, Columban Bishop Edward Galvin met with the Sisters of Our Lady of Hanyang, a community he had founded. There were tears all around as he released them from their vows and asked them to return to their families. Thirty years later, after China’s Cultural Revolution was over, some of the Sisters decided to regroup. Sometime later these Sisters began to invite young women to join them. As of this writing (November 2010), two of the Sisters from Bishop Galvin’s time were still alive: Sr. Li Fen Fang, aged 92 years, and Sr. Zhou We Bin, aged 97 years.
Sisters Shen Ai Yun and Zhang Jinping, the current and former leader of the community respectively, describe some of the community’s dreams and plans for the future.
First, we dream of a bigger community; we need to grow in order to do what needs to be done here in Hanyang. We want to do mission work in the Hanyang Diocese. We would like to help improve the spirituality of Catholics and attract others to the Church. We would help Catholics deepen their spirituality through courses about our faith and the Bible and by inviting people to come to church more regularly.
Then, in order to interest others in our faith, we would begin by visiting them, especially in their time of need. Showing compassion and friendship is very important in Chinese culture regardless of religious belief. We would also encourage Catholics to invite their friends to church. Some Catholics might ask us to go to the homes or the workplaces of friends to talk about our faith. Many people in China are searching for a deeper meaning in their lives; this is so especially among the youth.
In order to tackle these tasks we would need preparation, and there are courses in theology and Bible for Sisters in three cities in China—Taiyuan, Beijing and Shijiazhuang. Some of our Sisters have already done the two year course in Taiyuan. A three year course will soon be available in Beijing, for which the entry standard will be quite high.
There is very little missionary work being done in the diocese of Wuhan; we lack organization. We could start a training center here in Hanyang for Catholics so that priests, Sisters and laity might work together to help renew the faith of our people and, at the same time, reach out to others with the Good News of the Gospel.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, tells us that our faith in Jesus Christ urges us to respond in three ways: first, to preach the message of Jesus; second, to live a religious life by the practice of prayer and the celebration of the sacraments; third, to serve those who are in need. Being religious Sisters we should care about those whom society does not care about as it seems that their number is increasing.
Maybe we should not say that society does not care at all, but what we can say is that it does not care enough. For example, younger family members may give money to help the elderly of their family, but then do not live with them, accompany them in their illness or loneliness. There is so often a lack of personal care rather than a lack of money.
To help do even more of this outreach work we have formed a lay group called “Loving Heart Small Group,” which has seventeen members. We know we cannot solve other people’s problems, but they like us to visit them in their homes. We find this is so with both Catholics and non-Catholics. We have also seen that this kind of outreach has a big impact on people.
Although their numbers are small, the Sisters continue to reach out to the community, to find new ways to serve. Their lives are witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ.