I HAVE followed with interest the discusions in your columns on religious freedom in China today and in particular the letter, Feb 21, describing the experiences of an ex-teacher there.
When I visited China last June, my husband and I visited our son who also was a teacher there. We were most agreeably surprised to find the church packed to the doors — we had to stand. This, at 7.30am was the last Mass of the day, there having been two previous masses.
In the church grounds there was a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes. At the back of the altar hung a banner depicting Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, and the hymn we heard as we approached, though in Chinese, was to the tune of "I'll Sing a Hymn to Mary". The Mass was in Latin, I suppose, but we didn't hear a word, everything being drowned by the enthusiastic singing of the congregation.. The lesson and gospel were read in Chinese while the priest intoned in Latin. So far as I could understand there was no homily. The people behaved in a very reverent fashion — young and old. In fact it was like being taken back in time — had I been a supporter of the old Tridentine Mass I'd have been in my element.
We were so impressed by the congregational singing that on the next visit we took along a tape recorder and taped as much of the Mass as we could; After the Mass on the second occasion there was Benediction, with all the old Latin Hymns in which my husband joined with great gusto.
1 am not naive enough to think that this means there is religious freedom in China — the Chinese people themselves know that the situation can, and does, change as people in power change.
I knew there was an elderly bishop and priests in jail because they would not give up their ties with Rome.
However, I do think that we must take a positive position and welcome what lifting of restrictions do come about. I felt very sad that these good Chinese people, who obviously had a deep devotion to the Mass and to Our Blessed Lady, should be separated from the universal Church.
On the other hand, when I see the attitude of Rome to Nicaragua, and other negative attitudes to liberation theology (and remember that China's dealings with the West in the past have been far from happy), I can see why they do not rush to re-establish ties with the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
I agree, we should do more for "our brothers and sisters in the suffering church" — why not start by offering our prayers — that they may all be one. And not only in China.
Mary O'Neill Herts.