On 1 May, the feast of St Joseph the Worker, the monastery of St Augustine was opened in Lintou, in the Shan Xi Province of China. This is the first contemplative monastery to be opened in China since 1949. The monastery and associated nursing home will be known as St Augustine's Garden.
St Augustine's Garden was opened by Bishop Paul Meng (Diocese of Taiyuan) and was concelebrated by Bishop Wu Jin Wei (Diocese of Yun Cheng) and approximately 50 priests, with over 1,700 Catholic lay faithful in attendance for the two-hour Chinese Mass which was full of joy and thanksgiving. The monastery Church was opened and consecrated by Bishop Wu Jin Wei the previous evening.
The Mother Foundress of the monastery, Sr Mary Niu Shufen, commented that the monastery is "Not my work but God's work as He looks after both the small and big work".
The celebrations included an open air Mass with four bands providing musical accompaniment to the liturgical celebration. At least eight dioceses were represented at the opening of the monastery. Both the local county's Head of the Government Religious Affairs Bureau and the Secretary of the Communist Party in the local village attended the Mass and gave speeches of support during the reception.
The building of the monastery was mainly financed by supporters of Cultural Exchange with China (CEC), a UK charity which has the specific aim to "build bridges between the Catholic Churches of China and of Britain."
The local bishop, Bishop John Baptist Wang Jin of the Diocese of Yutze, was unable to attend the opening of the monastery, as the 90 year old prelate is critically ill in intensive care. However Bishop Wang Jin gratefully received an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis and imparted his blessing to those who attended the opening of the monastery from his sick bed.
The Director of CEC, Fr Eamonn O'Brien SSC, gave thanks to Bishop John Baptist Wang Jin during the opening of St Augustine's Garden, "From the very beginning Bishop Wang Jin was able to see the value of this project and support it."
Bishop Wang Jin who as a priest spent twenty years in prison, ten of which were in solitary confinement, agreed to Sr Mary Niu Shufen's request to open the monastery because of his experience of prayer and contemplation while in prison.
Sr Mary, who received her religious formation in an Augustinian community in England, stated that she was, "Very grateful for all the support she has received in China and internationally, in particularly from CEC - as without their help this would not have happened."
Following the official opening Fr O'Brien recalled that, "The opening of the monastery has taken eight years to complete. I remember standing on the site when there was only earth beneath and sky above. I would like to thank all the supporters of CEC for providing financial and prayerful support throughout this period."
The monastery will follow the rule of St Augustine and in addition to housing a contemplative order of nuns, will be a catechetical and retreat centre for local Christians, a place of reflection for all and a nursing home for the elderly and infirm.
As the community of nuns begin their mission as active contemplatives, they still require funds to support the running costs of their monastery and to complete the nursing home.
Donations can be gratefully received on the CEC website www.cecchina.co.uk/donations/.
The World Day of Prayer for China occurs on Saturday 24 May. Please hold the work of St Augustine's Garden and CEC in your prayers; as the Director of CEC commented at the opening of the monastery, "Let us ask God to give his love to the future of the project and bless it with many vocations."
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