Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Finding Religion

Nathan e-mails with more on the differences in Mass experienced by the wandering Catholic:

Loved the Manila piece.

I attended Mass while on business in Scottsdale, Arizona, last month. New church, lots of families and plenty of young people, nice to see. Priest was evidently Mexican or at least English wasn’t his first language but he gave an excellent homily.

Two discordant things: the music was too new for me, more like something you’d hear at an Evangelical Lutheran church or on KTIS; and there was no crucifix. Seriously, I looked. I checked the flags--one American and one Papal. Yep, that’s right. There was a votive candle and a statue of Mary and one of Joseph. There was a statue of The Risen Christ hanging on the wall behind the alter framed by stained glass windows (stunning effect). There were crosses carried up in the procession by the servers before Mass and a beautiful silver cross on the altar. But no cross with the corpse hanging on it, no crucifix, anywhere in the church. Weird.

As for after-Mass prayers, the old-timers have a charming custom at Maternity of Mary on Dale Street in St. Paul. After Mass, they all kneel to say one silent Hail Mary… for the repose of the soul of the NEXT person to die from that parish, whoever it might be. Plan ahead--I like that.

Nathan's checklist of the symbols to look for in a Catholic church brought to mind my attempt to locate the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception last week in Nanjing, China. Unlike the Philippines, Catholic churches are not all that easy to come by in China despite the reports of surging interest in Christianity in the Middle Kingdom. Armed with the name of the church and its address, I huddled with the hotel concierge on Sunday morning to come up with a plan of attack. After he provided me with a sheet with the church name and address in Chinese and a very broad map of the area around the hotel, I set off to hail a taxi and begin my quest.

Getting a cab was easy and after I handed the driver the sheet and received an assenting nod of recognition, I figured that the search was going to be easier than expected. After a fifteen minute ride, the driver pulled over and disgorged me in front of a church.

Almost immediately I knew it wasn't the church that I was after, but between the driver's English and my Chinese, I knew we shared nowhere near the words needed to attempt to remedy the situation. The key to happy travels is the ability to recognize that plans--like maps--almost never unfold perfectly and accept and adapt to circumstances as they arise.

So I stepped inside the church to explore it further. While it was immediately apparent that it was indeed a Christian church of some sort, it was also obviously not a Catholic church. No crucifix, no kneelers, no Mary, no saints, no stations of the cross, etc. I had found a church in Nanjing, just not the right one.

I was fortunate enough to have the number of a work colleague handy in my cell and equally fortunate to have him answer my call (especially since he was celebrating his one-year wedding anniversary that day). I told him of my troubles and the first question he asked was where I was. Ummm...in Nanjing...standing in front of a church...somewhere. My original plan had been to hail another cab and have him help the driver find the church I was looking for. But after his query, I decided maybe I should seek to pinpoint my location a bit more precisely. So I hiked up to the end of the block and told him the cross streets of the intersection.

Wait a second, I thought. I asked my friend if Lu meant "road" in Chinese. Yes, it did. Which meant that the sign I was reading that said ShiGu Lu was the same as Shigu Road. Which meant that I was at least in the ballpark of finding the church located at 112 Shigu Road. He advised that I look for young people in the area to ask them how to find the church. Since there aren't many churches in Nanjing, he was sure they would all know where it was. But I elected to continue on without assistance, especially when I found other addresses that verified that I was on the right side of the road and headed in the right direction.

Five minutes later I found the church. The right church this time.

It was set back off the street within a small courtyard that featured a fountain, plants, trees, and a sign with a familiar figure.

The side wall had windows with a look common to churches throughout the world.

Upon closer inspection, you could more local architectural touches at the top of the wall and the roof:

The interior design was a familiar one:

And it was easy to see the distinct signs of a Catholic church:

Check all the boxes.

It was interesting to note that the tranquil grounds of Cathedral were located in the midst of a busy urban district. Directly across the street was a building that featured not one, but two night clubs:

Flappers drink for free on Wednesdays.

Sounds like a good place to catch a cat fight.

Further down the road there was a gate at what must have been a side entrance to the Cathedral.

After visiting the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, I spent the rest of that afternoon walking about downtown Nanjing. On my the back to my hotel I did come across another church, but didn't have time to learn more about it.

The Cathedral did offer a Mass in English on Sunday evenings, but I was not able to attend. After spending the better part of the day strolling the sweltering streets of Nanjing, by the time I returned to my hotel I was thoroughly spent and feel into a deep sleep as soon as I laid down. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.