China: remote Catholic community keeps faith without priest for 50 years

 The Catholic agency AsiaNews reported today on the discovery of Catholic community, living a remote mountain region, who have practised their faith without a priest since 1949. A 64 year-old local lay leader, Hu Junjie, said that there were about 5,000 Catholics, mainly Drung, Lisu, Nu and Tibetan ethnic minorities, in Gongshan, Yunnan province, who meet together daily to pray. Hu, a Drung ethnic, said that the community have not only maintained their faith, but have also evangelized. During winter when there is no farm work to do, they go out in groups of two or three to visit and preach to non-Catholic villagers. Hu said it was hard to use the Bible to evangelize, because it was not available in all the languages spoken in the area. Instead he said they used hymns to spread the Good News. Father Paul Chen Kaihua of Kunming diocese in the same province, said that he learnt about the community from a parishioner in January 2002. Since then he has been visiting them twice a year to celebrate Mass and administer the Sacraments. The area was originally evangelised by French missionaries. By the time the Communists came to power in 1949 there were three churches. Although the communty had no contact with a priest after that time, the number of churches has grown to 15 - thanks to lay evangelisation. Another priest, Father John Fang Ping from Xinjiang Uygur in northwestern China visited Gongshan in August 2002. He said the villagers told him they had just built two new churches but could find no priest to consecrate them. He blessed the new churches, which are situated above the snow line. He also celebrated Mass in Mandarin which was translated into local languages for the villagers by lay helpers. Far Fang said the churches had taken three years to build. The community had carried every piece of brick, wood and rock uphill themselves. At the blessing ceremony, he said, the villagers dressed in traditional ethnic costumes and brought agricultural produce and chickens, lambs and cows during the Offertory. They celebrated with wine and dancing around the churches. Gongshan, next to Tibet, is about 2,120 kilometres southwest of Beijing.

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