18th July 2014 - by Eamonn O'Brien

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Sr Isobel Loong was a member of the executive of Cultural Exchange with China about 8 years ago and has now retired to her home in Singapore. She still connects with China and sent the report below after her recent visit to China.


I have been visiting the Catholic Church in China since 1998. At the beginning, my involvement was with religious sisters in Xi’an; Wuhan; Shijiazhuang and Biancun in Hebei Province – Hainan Island was a later addition. What has happened over the years is nothing short of a miracle – a confirmation of the saying: ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians’.

The China Exodus of foreign missionaries in China began in 1949 when the Communists took over and the Exodus ended in 1954. When China re-opened its doors under Deng Xiaopeng in 1978, the Scheut Missionary Fathers, who served in China over a 90-year period, were the first to take the initiative to venture into China again. The “Open Door Policy” only reached Hainan Island many years later, that’s why the island was way behind Mainland China as far as development.

At one point in the 1960s only two Churches were opened. Despite 30 years of brutal repression, the belittling of all religions, and even continued restriction on religion today, a great transformation is taking place: the Catholic Church in China is beginning to stand tall again.

Because of changed circumstances, these days, foreign missionaries cannot engage in missionary activities in China. But missionary activity can take on different forms. One may not be a missionary *in* China, but one can certainly be a missionary *for* China. God’s mission of love goes on.

*The First Contemplative Monastery in China*
While I was in Shijiazhuang, Mainland China, I just missed the Opening of the first contemplative monastery in China since 1947 by one day. On the 1st May, at Yu She, in Shanxi Province, the monastery of St Augustine was opened. I knew Sr Mary Niu, the foundress, way back when she came from China with another girl for formation at the Augustinian Priory, Sayers Common, in Sussex, England. It was at the request of the late Fr Cleary IC that I visited Mary Niu and her companion from China, just in case they were homesick – because I could speak Mandarin . Mary has kept in touch with me after her return to China with a dream of starting a contemplative order in China. After 10 years or more, her dream has come true – she now has a community of three Sisters.

*Hainan Island*
After re- tracing my footsteps at Jinde Charities Centre at Shijiazhuang and Xi’an Social Desk I arrived on Hainan Island on the last lap of my journey. This time was specifically to return to Haikou for a review of the progress and development of the mission with which I was privileged to be a part of. I am thankful to God for the opportunity to have been involved in its life and mission for three fruitful years (2010 -2013) which was most life-giving for me.
This visit was like coming home. On seeing Fr Yang, Fr Zhang, Fr He and the Sisters, I could not hide my emotion. There was a spirit of faith, a culture of service and a sense of community which were so evident among them.

Progress and activities of the Haikou Church
It was such a joy to see and feel the teeming vitality of the Church in Haikou. Some activities, like, the University Students and Working Youth Group and the Family Life Ministry are well established; and regular prayer groups are taking shape. Steps have been taken to spread the wings of evangelization from Haikou to Sanya, which is at the southern tip of Hainan Island, with a rented flat as its base. Fr. He, on loan for three years from Hebei Province, is stationed there. He is a dynamic priest with a great missionary spirit and zeal. He is now fairly familiar with the locality. He has begun to search out Catholic families, to get to know them so that a census of baptized Catholics can be compiled. At present, Faith is very shallow with the traditional Catholic families. The plan is to gather the young together in the flat in the evenings, and conduct Catechetical sessions. When this generation gets to understand and appreciate their Catholic faith, the future generations will be grounded in their Catholic Faith. This would be the hope of the Church on Hainan Island for the future.

If and when Sanya’s model gets established, this process will be repeated in the next village, Qionghai, whose population is of a younger age group. Eventually this model of evangelization would be adopted in the other four out- station churches in the villages.

The Youth Group
It was so wonderful to meet some of the senior University students with whom I was associated during their early years of studies. Now they are graduating and returning to Mainland China to start a new life. The group led by Sr Yu, surprised me with a cake and a bottle of champagne and flowers to celebrate my Golden Jubilee which was last year.

The Sisters
The Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in Shenyang Diocese missioned Sr An Dah (Antonio) to join the two indigenous Sisters, Sr Yu and Sr Moh, in Haikou to form a community of three. Parish ministry is expanding and Sr An Tah was a breath of fresh air to the community. We are also looking at the possibility of inviting a community of the Shenyang Sisters on a contract basis, to work on Hainan Island for a certain length of time. The Superior General of the Sisters had been over with another Sister to visit the mission. The Church in Haikou, the capital of this remote Hainan Island, is endeavouring to face the huge challenges of modern Chinese society by taking up the great challenge of proclaiming the Gospel. Your support will be a tremendous act of solidarity with some of the most extraordinary ‘spirit filled’ people I have ever met.