August 17, 2007

Light of the East: A Chinese family grows in faith in the archdiocese

Weimao and Carrie pose with their daughter Lucy after the infant was baptized on May 6 at the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington. (Submitted photo)

Weimao and Carrie pose with their daughter Lucy after the infant was baptized on May 6 at the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: On June 30, Pope Benedict XVI issued a groundbreaking letter to the Church in China, which for decades has been troubled by division and persecution. The following is the first of a two-part series on the connections between the archdiocese and the Church in China.)

By Sean Gallagher

It is a long, long journey from China to central Indiana.

Weimao Ke made that journey three years ago when he came to Bloomington to be a graduate student in information sciences at Indiana University.

His trek across the vast Pacific Ocean, then over the mountains and plains of America, matched his long pilgrimage of faith in which he went from espousing atheism to embracing the Catholic faith and being baptized at the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington.

Weimao and his wife Jianrong (who is known by her American name, Carrie,) spoke about their shared journey in telephone and e-mail interviews with The Criterion.

Do you really believe in God?

Weimao and Carrie, both 32, met when both were university students in Shanghai.

Carrie had been baptized when she was 13, and living in a town near the North Korean border.

She and her family lived among members of what is known as the “underground Church,” those Catholics who refused to register with the communist government and be part of its Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), which has historically rejected relations with the Holy See and has appointed its own bishops without the approval of the pope.

Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged in his letter to the Church in China that some of those bishops have secretly come into communion with the Holy See. He encouraged them to make their action public when it is possible, a move which he hopes will foster reconciliation among Chinese Catholics.

For Carrie, having grown up around Catholics, believing in God was not a strange notion.

But it was for Weimao.

“The first time that I dated her and I knew that she was a Catholic, it was weird to me,” said Weimao. “We went to see a film and [afterwards] I asked her, ‘Do you really believe in God?’ And her answer was very simple, ‘Of course. Yes.’ ”

Weimao explained that the education he received from the Chinese government had persuaded him to take for granted that God simply didn’t exist.

“After we got married, I was able to see in my daily life her praying and [doing] all the Catholic practices,” he said. “Although I did not believe in that, I respected that.”

When Weimao saw Carrie at prayer, she may have been praying for him.

“I was sure that he would believe in God some day,” Carrie said. “He is a person who pursues justice and truth, although he didn’t know God. It just takes time. I prayed for him.”

Weimao’s respect for Catholics increased as Carrie told him about how members of the underground Church, especially priests, were frequently imprisoned and beaten because of their refusal to join the CCPA.

“They testified with what they did for God. That was encouraging,” he said. “I could see that there had to be something real in there.”

Being at home far away

Light of the East logoWeimao’s journey of faith entered an important stage when he moved to Bloomington.

Although he did not yet believe in God as presented in the Bible, Weimao started going to Mass periodically at the St. Paul Catholic Center and meeting people there because he “was preparing a church for my wife when she came.”

“Eventually, I ended up going there regularly because St. Paul was quite welcoming,” Weimao said. “It’s a loving community. I had the feeling that I was at home every time I went there.”

One man who welcomed Weimao to Bloomington was Ernest Laszlo, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish.

They were paired together through the Bloomington-Worldwide Friendship, an organization that helps international students adjust to life in America.

Laszlo, 76, knew the challenges of fitting into a new culture. He was born in Argentina to Austrian and Hungarian parents and later emigrated to the U.S.

But part of the motivation to reach out to Weimao came from his Catholic faith.

“It makes the concept of brotherhood more real,” Laszlo said. “It doesn’t mean that if the other person is not a Christian that you want to make him a Christian. It’s just a part of accepting another human being and getting closer and being kind and generous with him.”

Eventually, however, Weimao asked Laszlo and his wife, Lilian, about their Catholic faith. When Weimao eventually entered into St. Paul’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the fall of 2005, he asked Ernest Laszlo to be his sponsor.

“The truth is, he had faith. He wanted to meet and to know God,” Laszlo said. “It was very, very impressive and humbling.”

Weimao’s journey to the waters of baptism came to its end during the Easter Vigil on April 15, 2006. Weimao was overcome by emotion during the praying of the litany of the saints, just prior to being baptized.

“When St. John’s name [his baptismal name] was called … I began to cry,” Weimao said. “I could feel all my body was filled with something like fire. I felt very blessed to be baptized at that moment in that church.”

It was also a powerful moment for Carrie.

“Although I did believe he would convert some day, I felt the happiness much more than expected when it came,” she said. “I had never imagined that it would be so perfect on that Easter Vigil when he was baptized.

“At that moment, I understood God’s plan is always beyond our vision. I felt blessed,” she said. “Weimao is very devout now. I was strengthened by his passion. We encourage each other in our lives. Our life is not the same any more.”

Handing on the faith

On Jan. 30, Carrie gave birth to her and Weimao’s first child, Lucy. She was baptized at the St. Paul Catholic Center on May 6.

At this time, Weimao and Carrie hope to settle in the United States where Weimao eventually would like to teach information sciences at the college level.

To that end, he has transferred to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where his doctoral advisor has taken a new position after previously teaching in Bloomington.

Both Weimao and Carrie know what steep challenges their young daughter would face if she were to try to mature in her faith in China.

“Imagine if our daughter had to go to all the ‘communism’ schools in China, where the textbooks are [filled with] atheism, and few or none of the teachers or her classmates would believe in God,” Weimao said. “We hope she could stand firm in such an environment.”

Yet whether it is in China or the United States, Weimao knows that it will be he and Carrie who can have the greatest impact on Lucy.

“What we can do is to live our faith, pass on Catholic teachings, be supportive on her faith journey, and be praying,” he said. “We hope the situation in China will change in a foreseeable future.”

(Next week: The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods ministered in mainland China for 29 years, from 1920-49. They are now taking the first steps to return there.) †


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