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A pagan comes to visit a Christian friend; the first thing he remarks is the absence of all images of idols. He hears the family sing their night prayers, is impressed and asks questions. His friend explains his belief and perhaps gives him a book to read. As his interest increases, he requests a more thorough knowledge of the strange religion. A catechist is sent to his home. Attracted by curiosity the men of the village flock around and every evening the teacher has a fair audience. The women in turn become interested, and want to learn more about Christianity. Two Chinese nuns (for they go by two's) are sent to instruct them.
Finally some families decide to embrace the new religion. They study the Christian doctrine and every night led by the teachers sing their prayers. When the instruction is well advanced, the missionary comes, completes the work of the catechists, and confers baptism on the catechumens. In many vicariates it is the rule to test these for two years before admitting them to baptism.
Conversions are also often effected through contact with a Christian family moving into a remote village, where the people never heard much about the Christian religion. They are attracted by the example of Christian life. In such way, a movement of conversions is often started in a region where the Christian religion was hitherto unknown, and brings into the church several thousand souls.
The Chinese do not like female children. The baby girl is often deprived of the mother's milk in favor of an older brother. In the mission where I labored, the pagans did not throw the infant girls away, except in famine years, but poor people often sold them. Husbands in great need even sold their wives. The buyer of the baby girl brings her up to be a wife for his son, when he and she would be of age. Those children have a very hard life, being treated harshly and burdened with work above their strength.
Some parents knowing their little ones would be better treated in the orphanage bring them to the priest's residence. Under the care of Chinese nuns those innocent beings are well cared for, receive a good Christian education, learn cooking, sewing, and clothes-making, and in due time marry Christian young men. A great number of blind and cripple children are saved from abandonment through Christian charity. Strange calumnies are circulated about the orphanages, as for instance that the eyes and the heart of the children are pulled out and sent to Europe to make drugs. I Ι know at least of one instance in which on account of that calumny, the parents starved slowly to death their girl of eight years of age, rather than bring her to the orphanage.
During prosperous years, few children are received, but when the harvest fails, they are brought in great numbers. Two years before my arrival, a great famine occurred in northern Mongolia. There had been no harvest for two years; on every road people lay dying of starvation. That year 250 children were received in one orphanage, and saved from starvation. When the missionary told me of the anguish he had passed through, not having the resources to save more people, I did not wonder that his face had become wrinkled and his hair white.
QUALITY OF THE CONVERSIONS The converts retain after their conversion some of their racial defects, but they acquire a greater sense of freedom, they favor western civilization, they understand the deficiency of their own culture; they have a strong faith, a great love of their religion, and are loyally attached to the missionaries.
During the Boxer uprising, in my parish, forty-two women and children were burned alive in a chapel, rather than give up their faith.
: A certain superstitution prevents the parents from letting the children die in the house. A little before death they take them outside. Neither do they bury the small children. They wrap them in a piece of mat and leave them in a secluded place outside the village. Many times I saw a dog or a pig eating the tiny corpses. It is to be hoped that the new ideas will rapidly change this and other strange customs.
Forty more of my people surrounded by the boxers were asked to deny their faith, and on their refusal, were slaughtered in cool blood.
While we were besieged, during an armistice, the Boxers promised immunity to the Christians, if they would only deliver to them the two European priests. I told my men that if they thought it would do them any good, we were ready to die. They answered: Father, we promised to stay with
you for life or death, we will stand by what we said and the battle went on.
A review of the Catholic missions would not be complete without statistics:
The latest I could find about the Catholic schools, was Krose's Katolischen Missionen statistik which gives in 1907 4857 schools with 118,013 pupils male and female.
In 1909 there were in China, 1,210,054 Catholics, 45 bishops, 1424 European and 631 native priests, 1215 seminarians, 229 European and 130 native lay brothers, 558 European sisters and several thousand Chinese nuns, 13,000 mission places, 8500 churches, chapels and oratories, 400 orphanages with about 24,000 pupils, and 600 dispensaries, hospitals and homes for old people (Cf. Herder's Konversation lexikon: Supplement 1911.) The Calendrier annuaire of the Observatory of Zi-ka-wei (Shanghai), 1912, gives for 191011: Number of bishops, 49; European priests, 1426; native priests, 627; number of Catholics, 1,363,697. That publication is very reliable.
Considering the small resources of the Catholic missions this seems a satisfactory result. In east Mongolia in 1906 we received from the Society of the Propagation of the Faith about 14,000 francs not quite $3000. If we assume that the missionaries receive $3000 more through their friends and relatives, that would make $6000 to provide for 48 priests, 3 boarding schools, 15 residences, 66 schools, and a number of catechists. The Christians being generally poor, contribute very little. The possibility of keeping up these various works, can only be explained by the fact that the cost of living is very low and that the missionaries not only receive no salary, but contribute to the work all the gifts made to them personally.
The great need of the day in China are higher educational institutions. The lack of resources alone prevents their foundation in every vicariate. Catholic high schools or colleges are established in Zi-Ka-wei; Shang-hai, Canton, Hong-kong, Tien-tsin, Pekin, Nan-kin, and even in Mongolia, for Christians and non-Christians, but they are too few. The Protestant missions are far ahead in that line of equipment. They have five modern educational institutions to every Catholic one. These schools are the best means of injecting some Christian spirit into the reform movement that that pervades China.
The need of that spirit is apparent to all students of Chinese history. That great nation whose people are sturdy, intelligent, laborious, sober and patient and have so many great qualities, was ever held together by fear and torture. It passed through more bloody revolutions than any other country, and a spirit of anarchy is latent among the people, ready to explode any time. Indeed during the nineteenth century, I count thirteen uprisings and rebellions in comparison with which the revolutions of Christian nations look like child's play, in which more lives were lost than was the entire population of Europe in 1870. During the Taiping rebellion 20,000,000 people perished in the one province of Kiang-su. During the Tch'ang-mao-tze rebellion, Marshall Seng after crushing the rebels on the battlefield, pacified the south of the province of Cheh-lih by beheading 100,000 men. Piracy and robbery are always practiced on a great scale, and the idea the people have of their morality is rather strange.
To put it in Chinese terms: Robbery for them is a very good business giving easy and big interest, but done with a big principal! One's head is the principal. In 1901 in a small town of Mongolia 280 robbers lost that principal in one row, after first seeing their chief ironed to death with red-hot flat irons.
Those facts should give some matter for reflection to those who exalt the Chinese civilization, without seeing its shortcomings, and deny the need of missionary work among them.
Viewing that work merely from the political and utilitarian standpoint, may we not reasonably conjecture that if ever, as seems quite possible, the yellow race should put his myriads against the armies of the white man, the Christian spirit infused even in the non-Christians by the work of the missionaries will serve to allay inter-racial bitterness, and the Chinese Christians will easily induce their fellow countrymen to trust the Christian nations, and enter into friendly relations with them. Is it not quite possible that the work of the missionaries may some day preserve from torture and slaughter the grandchildren of their critics?
This view partly answers the question sometimes asked: Is the vast expenditure of money and energy for the conversion of the Chinese really worth the while?
Looking at it from a religious standpoint, the Catholic believes that the saving of one soul would more than compensate for the entire outlay by Catholics and Protestants alike.
Progress in the work has been slow, first on account of the natural apathy of the Chinese people towards religious questions; Secondly on account of the frequent persecutions against the Christians, and the destruction of their lives and property in political disturbances and rebellions; thirdly on account of the prejudices aroused against the Christian religion by the greed of the western nations for Chinese territory and resources, the missionaries being much against their will implicated by some of the powers, and so being regarded as agents of the foreign aggressors; fourthly on account of the divisions of christendom, which the Chinese are not slow to note.
Notwithstanding all these obstacles, the outlook is fairly bright. Since the Boxer uprising, the conversions have enormously increased, and now that the educated among the Chinese are all eager for western methods and western culture, now that the spirit of civil and religious freedom