We live in a neighborhood that is called Taishan, which takes its name from the mountains of China, Tai; Shan, therefore, means “mountain”… a small Chinese lesson for you. Every now and then I go there, to walk and pray a rosary, enjoying the view of the city. Sometimes when I’m there, a thought comes to me: “In all these houses, there are many people who still don’t know Jesus. Can our small influence really change something?”. The Lord responds this temptation through the lives of the people that we meet.
Renato is the Italian name of a Taiwanese student we met in the university. Last June, he graduated with a degree in Italian. Four years ago, he was invited by one of his friends, who is also our friend, into the classroom where we meet to share our life, taking incentive from films, music, but mostly from a book, The Religious Sense by Luigi Giussani. It was the beginning of a friendship and a profound bond between us.
His family belongs to a very radical Taoist sect. Last September, Renato told me point blank that we wanted to be Baptized. “Why?” I asked him. He responded: “Because, I observed that when I pray, Jesus listens. For example, a few days ago I prayed, asking for His help, because I wasn’t able to make a decision. The following day my sister called me, and she told me that I needed to do exactly what I had desired to do, but didn’t have the strength to do. She knew nothing about the drama I was going through! It was Jesus!”.
After his graduation, Renato began to search for work. After a few weeks, he called me: “I don’t know what to do, many of the jobs that I have been offered require working on the weekends. What would I do for the Mass?”. You should know that here many people work during the weekends. Unfortunately, even for many Catholics the problem concerning the Mass is usually not posed: work is work! For some, it is really impossible to find time for the Sunday Mass, but for many others the opportunity for more money is simply stronger. For this reason, I was surprised by his seriousness in confronting the problem. However, by chance, he found a job that does not ever require working on Sunday.
This Easter, he was baptized and I was his godfather. Now he wants the cross I gave him to always be visible around his neck, so that everyone can see that he is Christian. After Easter Mass, during the celebration for the recently baptized, he briefly shared his story. He concluded with these words: “I decided to receive baptism because when I encountered these friends, I felt profoundly respected in my freedom. They did not pressure me at all into being baptized”.
Easter Sunday, during the afternoon, Renato came over for a barbecue. He had promised to us that we would eat meat, and he did! The sect that his family belongs to observes a strict vegetarianism, so he had never eaten meat. At the end of the day, I asked him “Are you happy?”. And he replied, “Yes, very much so.” I said goodbye, telling him that I had to go and call my parents, and he replied “Greet my grandparents for me!” “Your grandparents? Which grandparents?” “Your parents: if you are my godfather, then they are my grandparents!”.
Surely what we do is only a drop in the ocean but, as Mother Teresa said, every drop changes the pH of the entire ocean. Every person that encounters Christ is worth more than the whole world. Now when I return on Taishan to go walking, I don’t ask if our work can make a difference. I know that the world changes through the changing of each person. And, above all, God willing, it changes because I change.
Donato Contuzzi, priest since 2013, is pastor of St. Paul Xinzhuang. Renato is in the center of the photo.