After months of preparation by Srs. Anne, Maureen, Marilu, and Michelle, 12 sisters from China region, Sr. Margarita, Sr. Teresa, a laywoman from Philippines and nine lay people from Hung Shui Kiu-Hong Kong went for a pilgrimage to the early mission places of Maryknoll Sisters: Guilin, Wuzhou, and Jiangmen as part of China Region Centennial Year celebration.
Sr. Anne prepared booklets of each place from several sources, including from the book “Maryknoll in China” by Jean-Paul Wiest and then I copied part of it for this article. A travel agent helped to arrange the itinerary of our pilgrimage which was held on Dec 27-Jan 1.
We went to Huanggang-Shenzhen immigration border on Dec 27 am. After having lunch at Sihui, we continued the trip to Sacred Heart of Jesus Church Yunfu http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yunfu, which were Maryknoll Fathers’ mission and then Sr. Annie’s mission for one month. Fr. Constantine Burns, MM was the last Maryknoll pastor there. Fr. Thomas Ma Si Wahn replaced him in 1949 but three months later, the People’s Liberation Army came into the area. In 1950 Sr. Lau and one other Sister of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Jiangmen came as catechists to the parish. During the Cultural Revolution Father Ma and Sr. Lau were sent to different labor farms while the other Sister was assigned to a factory close to the church. After the Cultural Revolution Fr. Ma and Sr. Lau were able to return to service in the parish, while the second Sister returned to Jiangmen. After several rounds of negotiation with the Central Government, most of the original property of the church was returned.
After chatting with Fr. Chen and the two pastoral sisters from Jiangmen Diocese, we attended a Cantonese Mass celebrated by Fr. Chen. Then we visited the Yunfu Catholic Elderly Home, which began receiving elderly women catechists, Catholic single women, and Catholic widows in the late 1980s. At present the number of women being accepted is limited to 12 including Sr. Lau. Residents are admitted free.
We spent our first night in Guilin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guilin. In 1933, the Kweilin territory was annexed to the Maryknoll territory of Wuchow and in 1940, Srs. Barbara Mersinger and Cornelia Collins began the direct apostolate. Maryknollers in Guilin encouraged the formation of the Legion of Mary. In 1939, Msgr. Romaniello requested Srs. Mary Gonzaga Rizzardi, Dominic Kelly and Agnes Devlin (Gabriel Marie) to take over the direction of the novitiate and to help in the parish. The Sister Catechists of the Blessed Virgin Mary were officially recognized on March 2, 1939 and first four candidates were professed on May 31, 1942. During Japanese occupation in 1937-1944, Sr. Antonia Marie Guerrieri ran a free clinic and during the war, the novitiate was forced to close and the professed sisters were sent to Wuzhou. The novitiate reopened on Oct 15, 1945 under the direction of Sr. Barbara Mersinger assisted by Sr. Agnes Devlin. Soon there were 14 professed Sisters. Between September and December, 1950 most Maryknollers were ordered to leave China and Msgr. Romaniello dispensed the professed sisters from their vows and they went home. Srs. Rose Chin, Joan Ling, and Agnes Chou were studying in Macau at the time and, unable to group with their Community, they moved to Hong Kong and eventually they were welcomed into the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation. Three young women entered novitiate in 1993 and now there are six sisters who work as pastoral sisters or undergo further study.
After attending Mandarin Daily Mass celebrated by Fr. Li and Fr. Tang at Guilin Church, we had a time for chatting with Fr. Li, Fr. Tang, deacon and sisters. Then, we went for boating to four lakes and two rivers http://www.chinaodysseytours.com/guilin/guilin-two-rivers-four-lakes.html, overlooking the Elephant Trunk Hill http://www.chinaodysseytours.com/guilin/guilin-elephant-trunk-hill.html. After drinking tea in a tea house including learning how to hold the small tea cup, we went to Reed Flute Cave http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reed_Flute_Cave.
We attended Mandarin Daily Mass celebrated by Fr. Li and then go for boating to Xanadu to see the several native tribes along the river http://video.cultural-china.com/?x0y1TLBMuky1TI5MhkyETIRM&x0y6TKVMukzFTL1MtkyOTKVMw0yyTMdMtky9TA==. After going to West Street of Yangshuo http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/guangxi/yangshuo/west_street.htm and having dinner, we watched the wonderful show of the Impression Liu San Jie http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/guangxi/yangshuo/impression-sanjieliu.htm.
After breakfast at Yangshuo, we left for Wuzhou http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuzhou to have lunch with Fr. Yu and several sisters of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Wuzhou. The Maryknoll Fathers first went to Wuzhou in 1920 and followed by the Maryknoll Sisters in 1935 to assume the direction of the women’s catechumenate under the direction of Sr. Moira Riehl. In September of 1935 Srs. Mary Gonzaga and Moira started to direct the pre-novitiate of the Sisters of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Wuzhou which had an enrollment of 38 students from the Guilin and Wuzhou areas ranging from 10 to 20 years old. A postulancy was started on Aug 8, 1936 and the canonical recognition on July 1, 1937. First profession was held on January 6, 1940 and four sisters made their final vows on July 3, 1949. On September 4, 1943, the Maryknoll mission suffered a direct hit from Japanese bombers. Sr. Chanel Xavier was leading children in reciting the rosary when the entire front of the building collapsed. By June 1944, the situation became so dangerous that the Maryknoll Sisters were evacuated, the small convents were closed and the Chinese sisters moved to a mountain village. In 1946-1948 Srs. Rose Bernadette Gallagher, Agnes Cazale, Mary Lou Martin, Doretta Leonard, Mary Diggins, and Dorothy Rubner were assigned to Wuzhou. After language study, they were to learn direct evangelization techniques from Sr. Rosalia Kettl who was assigned to Wuzhou after 13 years in Meizhou (Kaying). They also helped to direct the women’s’ catechumenate and helped in the Chinese Sisters’ novitiate. On July 1, 1950, there were 10 Chinese professed sisters and 6 Chinese novices. In December 1950 Bishop Donaghy, Fr. Justin Kennedy, and Sr. Rosalia Kettl were arrested and by 1951 all Maryknoll personnel was forced to leave Wuzhou. In 1957 due to intense pressure of the Government, the Community was disbanded. The Congregation opened again in 1988 and had eight novices besides a few older Sisters. There are around twenty sisters now who work in the parishes, leprocy center or further study.
After attending Cantonese Holy Family Feast Day Mass celebrated by Fr. Yu at Wuzhou Cathedral and a chat with him, the sisters and several parishioners including two women who were disbanded from novitiate in 1957, we continued the journey to Zhaoqing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhaoqing.
We attended the Cantonese Daily Mass in Immaculate Conception Church Zhaoqing and then visited another Catholic Church in a Catholic village, the Matteo Ricci and Sino-Western Culture Exchange Museum and the memorial plaque to commemorate Ricci's six-year stay there. Then, we continued the journey to Jiangmen.
We attended Cantonese-Mandarin Daily Mass at Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Jiangmen celebrated by Bishop Paul Liang http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_Diocese_of_Jiangmen. The compound consists of two floors ex seminary, three floors Bishop’s house, four floors convent, one floor Cathedral, and one floor guard room. After having a chat with Bishop Paul Liang and Sr. Huang, several of us visited the ex-Maryknoll Sisters Convent. It’s the number five building in a big school compound next door, our sisters left it as they were expelled from the country during revolution and never came back. The big compound were belongs to Maryknoll, and then the government only gave back the convent to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, but they never occupied the convent, and it is rented out to the school.
The Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were founded in 1936 in Jiangmen by Bishop James E. Walsh. In 1954 some of the Sisters went to Hong Kong, others stayed in Jiangmen. On August 22, 1991, thirteen elderly Sisters made their Final Vows, five young Sisters made the First Vows, and eight young women entered the Novitiate. There are thirty Sisters now who work as pastoral sisters or undergo further study.
We continued our trip to Cangshan Health Center, where we were welcomed by a lion dance. In October 1933, Bishop Walsh assigned Fr. Joseph Sweeney to work full time with lepers in the Kongmoon area. In Sunwui, lepers were living in graveyards. The Fathers built temporary shelters and were soon caring for 218 patients in Toishan, Sheung Yeung, and Sunwui. In January, 1934, 300 acres were given to the Maryknoll Fathers by the Government for a leprosarium. In the summer of 1937, construction started but due to several reasons, there was a three and a half year delay in construction. Br. Albert Stauble was the main architect and builder and today we see one of his building still standing and in use. Three hundred lepers arrived from Sunwui to begin life in Gate of Heaven. In April 1941, 196 lepers from Hong Kong arrived so the number of residents up to 450. On March 24, 1945, the Japanese stormed Gate of Heaven and forced the lepers to run for the hills. Those who were not able to do so were killed. The Fathers had to hide in the hills and only 15 of the original residents returned to Gate of Heaven in October 1945. The Fathers repaired some of damage and were starting out anew when the Communist soldiers came. Although treated well at first, the Fathers were eventually deported from China on Aug 10, 1953. There remains a gut fear of leprosy which often prevents sufferers from receiving adequate medical attention. As well as suffering the physical deformity and sensory deprivation of the disease, lepers are effectively exiled from society, and wounded psychologically and emotionally. Today, Gate of Heaven is again a happy place for almost 100 adults suffering from Hansens’ Disease. It is very well run by several volunteers.
We continued our trip to Zhongshan Ferry Terminal as several of us went back to Hong Kong while four Sisters continued the trip to Gongbei immigration border (with Macau).
As I reflect on this meaningfull pilgrimage including the opportunity to see the beauty of the places, I look with great admiration to our heroic Sisters (some of them are still living in our Maryknoll Sisters Center New York) who faced so many hardships including imprisonment for our mission in mainland China and for sure, I am not as heroic as they are.
The pictures of this pilgrimage can be seen at: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151165383481556.434373.658706555&type=1
Hong Kong，January 9, 2013
Sr. Anastasia B. Lindawati, M.M.
Let’s do simple things with simple love to make God’s love visible