Saturday, July 28, 2007
Here I am Lord
Ben and I decide to take in Mass at the Catholic Church across the street from the hotel. Our guide has mentioned this is the oldest church in China, so worth a visit. A crush of people force into the packed church and at first we are stranded in the back, after being handed a bulletin filled with the Mass and events of the week, all in Chinese. This is the third service of the day, held in Chinese (they begin in Latin, then two Chinese services and one in English) and they are prompt, as the service begins at 8:30 a.m. An usher spots the two tall Americans in the back and leads us to the front, with really no place to sit. A man gets up from the kneeler and leads me over to take his spot, and then I am offered a seat. Inside the temperature reaches 32c (do the math…I don’t know the conversion quite yet) and the oscillating fans strapped to each column try to cool us, but still a sweaty gathering. The building is majestic, but the trappings inside are simple. The cross in the front of the church is modest, with two floodlights putting it in a reverent (but a little like a yard display) glow. The front wall is covered by a huge framed painting of Mary, with portraits of angels on each side. Large-bulb multi-color Christmas lights surround Mary. Potted plants are placed around the altar and benches and kneelers are placed tight together with little room to stand. The place is packed. I spot one teen texting in the pew ahead, as another doses off while writing a note. A toddler complains until mom takes her out to bring back an orange drink and the entire time the air is filled with music and gospel. They clap while singing and smiling, nodding people surround me. This is a very inviting place and I feel welcome to celebrate Mass here. A woman next to me tries to strike up a conversation, but I am unable to converse in her language. We end the chat with smiles and nods. That I can do.
Looking around, I notice the light fixtures (chandeliers hanging from the vaulted ceiling) seem modern, as does the stained glass, looking a bit more like a large window cling with a Jesus/Pokemon feel. I’m guessing this place has seen some rough times over the years. Together we all rise up, join hands and pray together before Communion. We turn and greet each other, which is yet another round of smiles and nods. A crush of people head to the altar and I am greeted by the priest, who tells me “The body of Christ” in the best English I have heard in awhile (well, missing a Texas twang and sounding a little like James Earl Jones). Except for the occasional Amen and Alleluia I can’t discern much from this morning. Yet I feel the presence of God filling this space. And while I am kneeling on the black, stone floor, far from family and home, a familiar hymn settles over us from the loft above – Here I am Lord. It seems as if I’ve been located and I am comforted by knowing I am never too far away.
As we leave the church, Ben and I meet up again, now facing a sea of people trying to get into church for the next service. We are guessing more than a thousand are attending each Mass. It was amazing to see the number of people at this place.
Enjoy your Sunday and find your place.