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Reflections: Chinese Catholicism — 'Share the Warmth'

Reflections: Chinese Catholicism — 'Share the Warmth'

The Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture hosted a Faculty Travel Immersion Seminar during the January intersession. This year’s trip, to China, fulfilled the purpose of giving an interdisciplinary group of faculty an experience of the global Church and to give them a positive experience of Church. Faculty participants, Dr. Kate Yanina DeConinck (Theology and Religious Studies) and Dr. Maureen K. Day (Franciscan School of Theology), provided short reflections from the trip in connection with the theme of the recent USD All Faith Service.

On January 31, 2019, students, faculty, and staff joined with local faith leaders to celebrate the University of San Diego’s 26th annual All Faith Service. This year’s theme was “Hospitality: An Invitation to Healing and Wholeness.” Through stories, prayers, dance, and more, representatives of diverse faith communities probed the question of what it means to create spaces where all persons — including those who are unfamiliar to us — are welcomed and embraced.

This theme of hospitality resonated deeply with the experiences that a small group of multidisciplinary faculty and staff members had during intersession as we participated in the CCTC faculty travel immersion seminar in China. For 10 days, we traveled from Xi’an to Beijing, exploring sites of religious and historical importance while also tracing the complicated story of the Catholic Church in China. None of the participants in our group had visited China before, and the economic and political tensions between the U.S. and China in the weeks leading up to our departure had caused some of us to wonder what sorts of dynamics we would encounter with local groups and individuals. Yet, as strangers who could only barely navigate local customs and language, we were continually met with patience, kindness, and an authentic sense of welcome. Below, we share just a few of the moments when Chinese hospitality touched our lives:

Kate Yanina DeConinck

On the first day of our trip, we took a long bus ride to the outskirts of Xi’an to see the famous Terracotta Warriors. As our bus wound through crowded streets, our local tour guide told us about the history and culture of her city. “Starvation has historically been a central concern in our society,” she told us. “In China, it is common to greet one another by asking ‘Are you hungry?’ or ‘Have you eaten?’ It is important to make sure that a person’s basic needs are taken care of first.” Our guide’s words stayed with me throughout the remainder of our trip as we visited various seminaries, academic centers, and other locations. In each instance, we entered an unknown place — often shivering from the cold winter climate — and were greeted with an offer of tea or hot water. Before our local hosts began to engage us in conversation, they cared for us and gave us a moment to settle in. This spirit of hospitality seemed to spread throughout our own group as the trip went on: as participants came down with coughs or colds — or were simply craving a piece of candy that reminded them of home — others readily shared the medicine and supplies they had brought with them. These small moments ultimately reminded me that hospitality is a necessary precondition to establishing relationships based in peace and solidarity.

Maureen K. Day

After a tour of St. Michael’s Seminary, we were invited to join the seminarians and priests for evening prayer. I opted for a pew in the back, where I wouldn’t distract anyone from my lack of verbal participation; I can only speak about two dozen words of Mandarin. But, as discreet as my attempts were, one of the seminarians sat down next to me. And not just happened to sit next to me, but intentionally sat beside me, opened his Breviary and angled it towards me so that we could share it. I was still delighted by his gesture of inclusion even after I realized that everything was in Mandarin! I did my best to follow the few words I could. I was warmed when, after turning the page, he flipped back a page so I could chant the responsory with everyone. Several times throughout the prayer he pointed at the word we were reading. After we concluded, I managed to string together a simple, but genuine, phrase, “Xie xie, ni hen hao.” Or, “Thank you, you are very good.” He responded in Chinese and when I shook my head, he asked, “Do you speak Chinese?” I indicated I couldn’t and then we smiled and walked in friendly silence toward the dining hall where we would continue to break bread with generous and enthusiastic seminarians. Hospitality transforms situations from the foreign into the familiar as well as helps us appreciate both commonality and difference; hospitality lets us know we belong.

Faculty Travel Immersion Seminar Presentations: April 23 and May 6

Faculty members on the China trip will give a presentation on the theme, “Chinese Catholics: Past Achievements, Present Concerns and Future Challenges,” April 23 and May 6, 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Degheri Alumni Center, rooms 112-113. Presenters will be Dr. Victor Carmona, Theology and Religious Studies; Dr. Diana Chen, Integrated Engineering; Dr. Maureen Day, Franciscan School of Theology; Dr. Kate DeConinck, Theology and Religious Studies; Dr. Lisa Nunn, Sociology; Dr. Atreyee Phukan, English; and Dr. Mike Williams, Political Science and International Relations and Director of the USD Changemaker Hub.

USD and Franciscan School of Theology faculty and staff went to China for a Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture-led Faculty Travel Immersion Seminar during January intersession.USD and Franciscan School of Theology faculty and staff went to China for a Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture-led Faculty Travel Immersion Seminar during January intersession.

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