From the house in Taipei, a testament to the value of studying and teaching for our mission.

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “One must study until he gets old.” Life itself, and in particular the life of a missionary, is in itself a prolonged school, because it is a continuous encounter with that which is other than us.
The first difference that has to be faced when one lives abroad is the language. For us in Taiwan, the first two or three years are filled with intensive Chinese lessons and a full immersion in the life of the community, an immersion guided by the advice of those who have been here longer and can introduce us to the local mentality and customs. The experience of our brothers who have preceded us is extremely precious. When someone new arrives, we cannot pray the Liturgy of the Hours solely in Chinese. Right from the start, however, we include some fixed parts in Chinese in our recitation of the breviary: the Our Father, the Canticle of Zachariah, the Magnificat, or certain hymns, some of which are traditional Gregorian chant, previously translated by Jesuit missionaries, others that were written directly in Chinese by Trappist monks, who used local melodies. During the years that follow, even if we stop attending lessons, every day still presents us with new words and new expressions to learn, some that emerge in conversation with the people here, others that are necessary for our work: a Sunday homily, catechism, the courses we teach at the local University. The mere reading of Giussani in Chinese for our School of Community and our study of the translation require a considerable amount of time and energy. The comments of our Taiwanese friends are essential for this work, particularly when they explain to us what a certain term means for them: it isn’t always the meaning that we had in mind.
Behind a word or a proverb, there are thousands of years of tradition and history. Therefore, in order for our encounter to be a real one, we have to know as much as we can about the cultural background of those with whom we live, from their classics to their modern authors, from their great religious masters to their most pedestrian superstitions. At our house in Taiwan, we recently began a systematic study of the Chinese culture, helped by professors who have come to speak to us about Confucius, Matteo Ricci, and Chinese history. We invite priests from other religious orders in order to learn from their experience. We watch Chinese and Taiwanese films together, read books about China and Chinese novels and share what we’ve learned and what we think with the other brothers of the house. All of this work gets summarized and consolidated into notecards that anyone in the house can use.
A couple of days ago, an Italian missionary who has been in Taiwan for more than twenty years told us over dinner, “When you arrive in Taiwan for the first time, everything seems strange, but after a little while you think you have understood everything. Instead, as the years go by, you realize that you have understood very little and that you are the one who is strange.” He makes a very good point: getting to know another person does not just mean recognizing his peculiarities, but, instead, discovering something in him that also belongs to you. The point where all cultures intersect is the heart of each person. It is from that point that you can discover a surprising affinity between a Chinese song of the mid-autumn festival, The moon represents my heart, and the Neapolitan song, The Silent singer. The student who gets bored staying at home because he feels his life isn’t going anywhere, who waits impatiently for the moment to meet us, even without saying anything, expresses the deepest expectation that resides in the heart of every person: the desire for happiness.
Just the other day, I was talking to a student who has been coming to our meetings at the university for a year and a half. With eyes misty from emotion, she told me, “You saved me.” “I too have been saved,” I responded. “There is only one person who saves us, and this person is Jesus Christ. The beautiful thing is that He comes to meet us through concrete persons, like me and you. So let’s continue to walk together in order to get to know Him better.” Our life on mission is a school because in an authentic encounter with others, we can learn better who we ourselves are, what lies in the depths of our heart. Even from someone who is not Christian, we can learn to know the God who has created us and formed us in His own image.
Image: In the photo, a moment of singing during the Taiwanese CL summer vacation.

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