A two-thousand-eight-hundred year old tree is quite an impressive sight; in fact, it is so striking that here in Taiwan these trees are said to be “divine or sacred” and they are often the object of veneration and cult. This conception is clearly seen in traditional Chinese paintings, where nature is often in the foreground and only by paying close attention can one see very small, almost invisible human figures.
The words of Psalm 8, so dear to Fr. Giussani, come immediately to mind: What is man that you are mindful of him?. These words were the theme of the three days in Lala Shan with the Taiwanese community of the movement this September.
This vacation in the mountains, with new and old friends, at the beginning of the social year, is becoming a tradition. This time around, we chose to go to Mount Lala, 120 km from Taipei, famous for its ancient trees, which according to scholars, are nearly three thousand years old. The word Lala comes from the dialect of the aborigine tribe Atayal, and it means “beauty”. Indeed, our time there was spent immersed in the beauty of nature, but, even more so, we were immersed in the beauty of humanity changed through the encounter with Christ.
During this historical moment, it is already a miracle to be able to spend any amount of time together, even if (until now) the Coronavirus has not taken over or seriously affected people’s lives, thanks to the excellent work of the government and the scrupulous attention of the Taiwanese in following the rules of hygiene, due, they say, to the great fear of death.
Among the 50 people, of varying ages, origin and religion, there was also A-Xia, an elderly woman and mother of our friend from China who is married to a Taiwanese man. Four years ago, her daughter, Dong-dong, knocked on our door and said she wanted to get to know God. After a few months of catechism, she was baptized, together with her husband and children. The first night during the games, the mother stood out for her especially pugnacious spirit, a rarity here where people tend to play for fun and not to win. We discovered later that A-Xia was a professional badminton player who had represented her Country in different competitions.
Apart from the games together, we also admired the ancient trees and nature, sang and prayed, and listened to Fr. Antonio Acevedo and Ruth, a protestant friend, present the book Five Loaves and Two Fish by Van Thuan.
It was a beautiful and rich time, in which every detail was truly a sign of God’s care for our smallness, made infinitely great by Him. At the end of the vacation, A-Xia surprised us when she said, “For me these three days have been a journey for which I am grateful; heart to heart, we lived every moment that was given. I haven’t had an easy life. At 31, my husband was diagnosed with a tumor. I, by myself, had to take care of him, his parents and our daughter. I struggled a lot but I never stopped giving thanks. When I was little, they taught us that at Peking the emperor in ancient times used to pray and thank the gods in the Temple of Heaven. So I did the same, amidst all my dramas, I always felt the protection of Heaven and thanked Lao Tian, the old God of Heaven. Only now, thanks to my daughter and to you, I know that it is the Lord, so I can finally thank Him and call him by name.” I was so moved by the work that God is doing in this woman, and at the way He allows us to participate. It raises that beautiful question yet again: what is man that You are mindful of him?.
(Donato Contuzzi is parish priest of Sao Paulo in Xinzhuang, New Taipei City, Taiwan. In the picture, Wang Hui, “From Jinan to Mount Tai”, 1698.)