Today on the feast of St Benedict, the priest at mass spoke of the legacy the great saint had left us. I wish to share on a visit to the church named after St Benedict in Inner Mongolia. It was on 28 June 2012 when we arrived in Hohhot. Look at the photo above. There we were, travelling in our bus. The weather throughout our trip of fourteen days had remained kind. On this day we learnt that some much needed rain had been falling for three days, but had stopped on the day we arrived. So we were moving along ground that was both muddy and difficult to travel along.
While the majority of my companions in the bus were taking their forty winks, I was preoccupied and rather anxious, I have to confess, and I constantly held my breath as I feared the wheels of our bus would get stuck. Several years ago, in Kenya, while trying to see the flamingoes, our little van had got stuck in black mud and we had had to summon help. Here in Hohhot we were in a big bus with 29 people, and I could not see how we would be able to push the vehicle, if necessary. Perhaps our Lord was trying to teach me a valuable lesson. Where is your faith, my child? My friend and I took out our rosaries and started to pray . . .
Finally we made it and we all cheered as we saw the parishioners of St Benedict’s Church (1902)waiting for us. They had waited for a long time as our journey had taken more time than expected. Once I got off the bus, I shook the hands of fellow Catholics standing nearby. Two elders of the church were firing fire crackers as a sign to welcome us. I felt overwhelmed. I returned the many warm smiles. It was, as one of my fellow travellers said, almost like home coming. Here we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, and in the many churches we went to, the reception was always heartwarming. As I mentioned to one of the four bishops we met, I shed many tears throughout the trip - tears of joy and gratitude, tears of thanksgiving to our Lord.
At St Benedict’s Church my tears flowed profusely. I can say that I was not the only person moved to tears. It was not sadness that caused me to cry. It was not the poverty that I saw. I gazed upon our Lord in the tabernacle and I just cried and cried and cried. I looked at the painting of Divine Mercy and I cried again. Here you are, dearest Lord, here you are present with your people whom you love. Here you are, and blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God! Yes, I was moved because I experienced God’s presence so powerfully. It was so on many occasions. The Good Shepherd was leading us.
See the warm smiles as these Catholic brothers and sisters of ours knelt down to pray. Later when I went to kneel beside them and asked for a photograph to be taken, my tears started to flow again, profusely. The lady in the black looked at me and smiled. I had to explain that I was feeling overwhelmed. I also shared with her that I had been thinking if we would ever arrive at the church. In trying to explain the situation, may I suggest that one thinks of an enormous piece of land with no borders, no visible horizon. . . and one is like an ant, walking on and on. That was how I saw our bus travelling as our two young drivers did their utmost to take the right path. We were not even travelling on proper roads then. . . just tracks in no man’s land!
For sure, my thoughts also went to the early missionaries. How did they do it? There was no way for them to go except forward. In the wilderness, one had little choice. So I saw how strong faith in God must be. So many of the early missionaries were promised home leave after ten years, but how many of them made it? We visited some graves and learnt that many died within a few short years, stricken by disease or killed by locals. Lord, have mercy!