Ordination in China

12th July 2012 - by Fr Denis Carter

On the mild, sunny morning of 20 November 2011, feast of Christ the King, the auxiliary bishop of Nanning, Tan Yanquan, ordained Paul Zhang a priest.


Fr Neil Collins attended the ordination in China of Paul Zhang.


Paul’s grandfather used to serve Mass for Neil’s uncle sixty years ago.

The event took place in the densely packed village church of Huanglin, near Xiantao City in the diocese of Hanyang. Paul had studied in the Pontifical Urban University in Rome for six years, and had been ordained deacon in St Andrew’s Church before returning to China.
Catholics from all over the Wuhan area gathered in Huanglin.
Three Columbans, Gerry Neylon, Rex Rocamora, and I, rose at 4.30am to hitch a ride on the bus from Holy Family Parish, Wuchang. Place names, in Chinese and English, on the signs along the express-way aroused memories of the years when this used to be the Columban Diocese of Hanyang.

The feeling became more intense as we turned onto a lesser road, and drove through the town of Chang Tang Kou where the late Tim Leahy had had to deal with thousands of converts.
James Collins, my uncle, was parish priest of Fengkou before 1948, and one of his altar servers was Zeng Hua Qing, Paul’s grandfather. Paul and I met in Rome in 2006, and when I visited China a few weeks later Hua Qing showed me where the church and priest’s house had stood, and even where my uncle had kept his horse.

Last June Paul came to Ireland, to see Dalgan, and my uncle’s home, and invited me to attend the ordination.
Loud celebrations had already begun when we reached the village, with fireworks and the drums of a band from a neighbouring parish. Inside the church we were mobbed by people asking for blessings, until Fr Joseph Li asked them not to bother the visitors. Worshippers in benches already full
made room for us, and insisted on helping me up onto the seat and down again each time I took a photograph.

A long procession of ministers, nuns, and priests led Paul and the bishop from the main door to the altar for Mass and the traditional ordination ceremony. During the litany Gerry told me what response to sing, ‘Qing wei women qi dao’ (Please pray for us); people on either side repeated it until I
got it right, and then complimented me on my Chinese! We listened to the bishop’s admonition, saw him and the priests lay their hands on Paul’s head, and stand with raised right hand until the bishop completed the prayer of ordination.
The new priest’s father helped him to put on the chasuble.
Despite the crush we were able to receive Communion from Paul, and after Mass, his first blessing.
Tables were set up outside the church for a banquet, and the local clergy insisted that we Columbans join the bishop at the top table. Conversation, mostly in English, was lively, although I had to concentrate on using my chopsticks. Photographs followed, of some of the Sisters of St Mary of Hanyang founded by Edward Galvin in 1939, others with the new priest, with his parents, and with Fr Chen, pastor of Huanglin. Fr Chen had been in a seminary until Mao closed it. He spent many years as a tram driver, before Peter Zhang, second Bishop of Hanyang, ordained him.

Finally someone warned that our bus was waiting for us. It took a little while to find the right one, and longer to sort out my feelings about the confused state of the Church in China, the sense of its mighty underlying strength, gratitude that the work of Edward Galvin and Columbans like my uncle is still
bearing fruit, and a prayer for Fr Paul.

Fr Neil Collins, a historian, served for many years
in the Philippines and is author of “The Splendid
Cause: The Missionary Society of St Columban
1916-1954”, Columba Press 2009.