Friday, July 3, 2009

Jesuit Cathedral in Shanghai

Xujiahui is known as a Shanghai shopping hub. But the area’s very name – “the Xu family home where the rivers converge” – is fat with history. Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), one of China’s first Catholics, once lived on this land, though since then rivers have been filled in to make roads and bucolic surroundings have vanished under construction.

Xu was a learned scholar who met Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci in China in 1600. The two mighty minds held rich discussions on the philosophies of east and west; each was seduced by the other’s heritage. Together, they translated Confucian texts into Latin and some of Euclid’s Elements into Chinese. Xu converted to Roman Catholicism, took the name Paul and steeped himself in western astronomy, mathematics, gardening and even the Gregorian calendar.

An imperial edict banned the preaching of Christianity in 1724 but, in the 19th century when French Jesuits returned to China, they bought some land not far from the grave of their ancient supporter Xu, buried in the grounds of his clan home on the outskirts of Shanghai. By July 1847, the Jesuits moved into their new mission. They built a church, library and orphanage.

The St Ignatius cathedral was completed in 1910 with room for a congregation of 2,500. It had two imposing steeples and stained-glass windows made by orphans trained by Jesuits. Later, during China’s cultural revolution, these windows were smashed and the steeples torn down. An altar, a Gothic piece, disappeared. Red Guards, criticising imperialism, accused the Jesuits of mistreating the orphans. They dug up graves and pointed to small childish bones.

But quietly, Shanghai is rebuilding its kaleidoscope past. The cathedral’s nonagenarian Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, who spent nearly 30 years in prison, had a dream. With crucial help from Father Tom Lucas, founder of the department of visual and performing arts at the University of San Francisco, the Jesuits commissioned and trained Beijing porcelain artist Teresa Wo Ye to make new stained-glass windows.

* click title for the entire article.

For further reading about Catholic persecutions in China... Underground Chinese bishop dies - BBC News.

Bishop Kung knew that things would get worse and that his freedom was nearing an
end. So, he began to prepare the priests in his diocese for the struggle and
persecution that loomed ahead.

In 1953, in defiance, he organized a special evening of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for young Catholic men in Shanghai. But, four days before the event, the Communist government took over the Jesuit house in Shanghai and arrested many Jesuit priests. Bishop Kung held his evening of devotion, anyway. Over 3,000 faithful young men gathered while police surrounded the Cathedral. A thousand ladies sat in the square outside the Cathedral reciting the rosary. Seemingly oblivious to the hugh police presence, the faithful chanted, "Long live Bishop. Long live Holy Father. Long live the Church." After the devotion, representatives from all the parishes carries a hugh wooden cross followed behind by Bishop Kung. The Chinese Catholics openly showed their willingness to follow their Bishop all the way to Calvary.

On September 8, 1955, Bishop Kung, along with several hundred priests and church leaders, was arrested and imprisoned. He was sentenced five years later to life imprisonment.
For more about the life of Bishop Kung... The Biography of Cardinal Kung.

To read a fictional theological thriller dealing with the Church in China... The Secret Cardinal by Tom Grace. A perfect novel for the beach ;-)

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