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Catholicism flourishes in Tibetan village

     BEIJING, Jan. 11 -- Twenty-six-year-old Joseph and 25-year-old Teresa had their second child on October 10, 2005. Joseph's uncle Austin named the boy Michael. On December 25, Michael was baptized in the Catholic Church of their village Cizhong.

The three-storey clock tower of Cizhong Church is a Gothic building, but its top floor is of Chinese pavilion style, covered with glazed tiles. (China Daily)
    Located by the Lancang River and Hengduan Mountains, Cizhong is a small village in Diqing Tibetan Prefecture of Southwest China's Yunnan Province. Among the 1,101 residents of Cizhong, most are Tibetans.

    It may be hard to associate Tibetan faces with such names as Joseph and Teresa, but since some local residents were converted to Catholicism around 100 years ago, they began to adopt Christian names and gradually forsook Tibetan names, which are usually given by lamas.

    Following the tradition of Christians, many who grew up in Cizhong but work elsewhere return to join Christmas celebrations at home.

    Hansen, 28, a tour guide working in Shangri-la, capital of Diqing prefecture, asked for eight days' leave. Hansen said he had prayed in the church with his parents every year since childhood.

    When he studied in Yunnan Ethnic Vocational High School in Kunming, he began to dig deeply into Catholicism. Now, Hansen reads a Chinese-English bible every day.

    "Actually Christianity and Buddhism are similar in terms of advocating good deeds," said he. "They differ only in forms."

    For this Christmas, Hansen brought with him his girlfriend Lurodroma, who is from a Tibetan-Buddhist family in Shangri-la. Lurodroma said it was the first time for her to celebrate Christmas, and she found it interesting.

    Seeds of Catholicism

    In the second half of the 19th century, the Foreign Missions of Paris began its activities in Deqen County in northwestern Yunnan. They built churches in Badong Village in 1866, in Cigu Village in 1867, and in Adunzi (now Shenping) in 1872.

    However, the French missionaries' work in this Tibetan-Buddhism-dominated area was far from smooth. In an "exorcising foreign religion" movement in 1905, two missionaries were killed and Cigu's church burned down.

    With compensation from the government of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the missionaries built the Cizhong Church. It was completed in 1914 and became the main church of the Yunnan parish.

    The three-storey clock tower of Cizhong Church is a Gothic building, but its top floor is of Chinese pavilion style, covered with glazed tiles. On the top floor, one can enjoy a bird's eye view of Cizhong Village.

    Though foreign missionaries left in the early 1950s, Catholicism had taken root in Cizhong. Today there are 233 households in the village. Of the 130 households on the west side of the Lancang River, where the church is located, 89 are Catholics.

    Though both Catholics and Tibetan-Buddhists live in Cizhong, there seems not to be a distinct boundary between them, as all villagers, whether Catholics or Buddhists, celebrate religious festivals together.

    "On Christmas, the Buddhists help us prepare the celebration, and they sing, dance and eat with us. The only difference is that they don't go to church to pray," said Hansen. "It's similar for us on Buddhist festivals."

    On Christmas Eve, a fire was lit before the church. Villagers, no matter what religion, age, or gender, formed a circle around the fire to sing and dance.

    "Our guests from afar have come a long way. On this auspicious day, we meet at the Catholic Church. It is by God's mercy that we can celebrate Christmas together"

    Xianzi, a form of song and dance popular among the Tibetans living in Yunnan, was used to express a Christian theme, and such songs were sung by Catholics and Buddhists together.

    The party reached a climax when Santa Claus appeared. Played by Austin, president of the church, Santa Claus brought gifts for the children.

    People went on singing and dancing around the fire until midnight, when firecrackers were set off declaring time for Mass. Then the villagers swarmed into the church.

    There is no regular priest in Cizhong. For this year's Christmas, the village invited Father Yang Hongchang from Dali to hold the Mass.

    Yang, himself of the Miao ethnic group, is experienced in working with minority Catholics.

    "In the western part of Yunnan, almost all Catholics are minority people," said Yang. "I have been to villages where there is no electricity, and no road."

    Language is a problem in Yang's work. For many villagers of Cizhong, only a part of his sermon in putonghua could be understood, but Yang said that even if some people couldn't fully understand what he said, they could feel God in their hearts.

    "For all the people in the world who believe in Jesus Christ, today is a jubilant day," said Yang.

    Customs and habits of minority people can be another problem.

    During Mass, non-Catholics were still singing and dancing outside the church, while some Catholics, having drunk too much wine, forgot Mass and kept singing and dancing too.

    "Later I criticized those church members who forgot Mass," said Yang. "A Catholic can drink wine, but shouldn't drink too much, or it will cause trouble."

    When the French missionaries brought Catholicism, they also brought seeds of vines and techniques for brewing wine. Today planting grapes and brewing wine still brings important income for the villagers. The wine used in Mass was also locally brewed.

    During Mass, the villagers read scriptures and sang chants in Tibetan language, but the texts they used were written in Chinese characters.

    Most people in the church held in their hands such a book of scriptures and chants, the cover of which has a picture of the church.

    Xiao Jieyi, 76, is probably the person in Cizhong whose life is most closely associated with the church, for he was born in it.

    Xiao's father, a Han Catholic from Sichuan Province, followed foreign missionaries to Cizhong and met Xiao's Tibetan mother here. They got married in the church and lived in the church for 25 years.

    Because the influence of his father, who worked as a translator for the foreign missionaries, Xiao not only speaks Chinese and Tibetan, but also learned French and Latin.

    In the 1990s, seeing that many young church members did not know how to read scriptures, Xiao began to transliterate Tibetan scriptures and chants into Chinese characters. With the help of many old church members, the book was completed in 2002.

    "I'm so glad that everybody can read scriptures and sing chants now," said Xiao, who often led the church members in reading and chanting.

    When the Tibetan Catholic chants echoed in the church, the resonant voice of men and penetrating voice of women could be heard from afar. Enditem

    (Source: China Daily)

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