I came to China fourteen years ago, settled into Beijing to learn Mandarin for three years and then came to Shanghai. Mrs. Cecilia Tao Bei Ling, whom I met about 20 years ago in Manila, the Philippines, where she was studying to improve her English had suggested that I might be able to help her translate books at Guang Qi Press. Along with our friendship, two practical matters infl uenced my decision: my desire to find a way of being on mission in China and perhaps Cecilia’s need for someone who might check the accuracy of her translations or at the least explain what the English meant. I began going to her office each day, and with the help of Chinese friends I gradually found my way into other jobs.
Four churches in Shanghai now have Masses for the English speaking community, and I help out with these Masses in two locations. As is the custom with many priests, I greet worshippers at the church door after Mass. Through such contacts I have made a few friends who have helped me move deeper into my missionary Chinese Friends
Welcoming Me to Mission commitment in a variety of ways, beginning with a concern for the life of the Church itself. I see it as an ongoing dialogue with the local Church. I’ve taught English to a bishop, priests and Sisters, and I am ready to help in the translation
of documents or in polishing up English translations. I do what I can to help in the pastoral care of the large and scattered expatriate Catholic community in Shanghai.
I have a good relationship with Bishop Jin who was born in 1916 and who has supported me in my life here. On some occasions I join in the celebrations in the cathedral at significant moments in the life of the Church, such as ordinations and anniversaries.
During my second year in Shanghai, Cecilia spoke to Evelyn and Jim Whitehead about me, and they spoke to the Fudan University authorities in the school of philosophy. They are consultants in education and ministry who serve university programs and other institutions throughout the United States and internationally. The university sent out their scout Rachel Zhu Xiao Hong to see whether it was worth talking with me or not. I then met Professor Zhang Ying Xiong who invited me to teach a course the following
semester. I have now been teaching there for nine years although at the moment I now teach only one philosophy course to postgraduate students each semester. The university was founded over 100 years ago by Ma Xiang Bo, a former Jesuit. It is one of the top universities in China with an enrollment of approximately 50,000 students.
The comments and questions of the students often allow me to introduce ideas and perspectives quite unfamiliar to them. In one paper a student wrote: “Those who
lived in the Age of Enlightenment gradually cut the doctrines of Christianity out of their brains. They then fi lled them with scientifi c knowledge.” In response I remarked, “Such an imbalance led to the greatest slaughter of human beings in the 20th century, wars
and revolutions,” which of course prompted a lively discussion. On the topic of the Renaissance one student wrote: “On the one hand it (the Renaissance) releases man
from the bondage of religion, on the other hand it makes later generations have a bad obsession with individualism and money worship.” This opened up a similarly good discussion. On the topic of religious faith and science, one student wrote: “Just as science
gives us the eyes to perceive the physical realm; faith grants us the eyes to discern the spiritual realm. Science and faith are not mutually exclusive,” a position that flies in
the face of so much of what they have been taught that has colored all their formal education in the communist context, although one must always add “communism with Chinese characteristics.” On the topic of Jesus of Nazareth, the thoughts expressed in student papers are many and varied: “The deeds of Jesus remind me of those Communist Party members and warriors who died in wars for a new China. Just like Jesus, in order to make people have a happy life, they sacrifi ced their precious lives.” One can always
fi nd a reason to explain some of the basics of Jesus’ teaching and its sacramental celebration when you get comments like: “According to Christian Gospel, it is the salvation
when Christians eat the bread and wine, which represent Jesus’ body and his blood. But it is so repellent that we absolutely can’t understand and accept it in Chinese culture.” One can follow through with a lively discussion with the class when someone writes: “But in Chinese tradition, it is different, because there is not a superior God beyond human beings.”
As the years passed, Rachel became a trusted friend. We were teaching in the same department and had the opportunity to get to know each other well. Rachel’s whole family has in fact became Catholic. Then, once it was clear to them that I intended to remain in China for some years, they invited me to be the godfather of the younger son. On returning from study in the U.S. where their second son was born, they had a hard time in the university due to their breach of the one child policy, but that has passed, and I generally have dinner with the family once a week.
About five years ago, I was talking to friends about the difficult lives of internal migrants in this city of 20 million inhabitants, 6 to 7 million of whom are migrants. By “internal migration” I mean people who have moved to the big cities but were born and brought up
elsewhere in one of the 32 provinces outside Shanghai Province. With a concerned group of Catholics, both expatriates and Chinese, I began to put some practical shape on our
shared concern and eventually the You Dao Foundation was formed. We felt we were responding to a need that no government, individual or organization would be able to solve alone. Every day each one of us saw migrants sleeping rough on the street or on building sites and in makeshift shanties. We researched the matter professionally with the help of Audrey Leung, a well qualified business executive who is also an attorney at law, who came onto our board.
We formed a non-governmental organization (NGO), which we then registered in Hong Kong. We would prefer to register in mainland China as it would permit us to regularize our way of working and so make many things easier. However, very few charities have been able to do so as the government is slow to allow what it does not fully control.
An observer may wonder why we put so much effort into doing so little in the face of such a massive challenge, such as the injustices suffered by the millions of migrants in Shanghai. My response can be summed up in the saying: “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness!” the origin of which is uncertain but some maintain that it is derived from a Chinese proverb.
For more information about the You Dao Foundation, please visit: www.youdao.org.hk