A-Zhen is a Taiwanese man from the central-southern part of the country, with heavy eyebrows, an intelligent gaze, and a silent smile. Much more talkative is his wife, Dong Dong, Chinese, from Canton, with a round face and passionate temperament. They are both in their late thirties. They arrived, unexpected, one Saturday afternoon, at our parish of St. Francis Xavier in Taishan. Donato and I were at charitable work at the nursing home with some students. Paolo was the only one home, and it was he who welcomed the couple that had come to us, simply, to learn about God and the Catholic Church. It is not the first religion that they have come across, but, up to this point, they hadn’t found what they had been looking for.
Dong Dong told us that every time she would pass in front of our red gate, while going to do her shopping at the market, she felt the desire to enter. At the last minute, she would change her mind. One day, one of her children said to her, “Mom, if you want to go in, just ring the doorbell!” Dong Dong and A-Zhen have three children, two boys and a girl. Their existence is already in itself a miracle. After the birth of the first two, Dong Dong found out she was pregnant again. As unfortunately happens quite often in these parts, they made a few calculations and decided for an abortion. But on the road to the hospital the husband and wife looked each other in the face. Without needing to say much, they turned back home.
They began to frequent the parish: after having met them, we began a pre-baptismal catechism, with them and with others, and it is the first that I have done since becoming pastor.
And just like that, I began one of the most beautiful adventures of my mission here: that of accompanying persons towards Baptism, which means, rediscovering together the beauty and truth of the faith, letting ourselves be surprised and moved by the evidence that God is great and that He loves us. Like when A-Zhen, who had up to that point been silent, reading a passage from the Religious Sense, which explains how the order of the universe is a sign of the existence of a Creator, exclaimed, “Shen fu, Padre: I’ve always thought that the universe was Ao Miao: marvelously mysterious! It is so grand, and we are so little; we are alive against all probability. Behind all of this there must be a project, Someone who created all of this!”
At a certain point, we began to talk about how the faith has to do with everything, even with the relationship of the couple, marriage, children. One day, they admitted to me, “We would have never imagined that one could live like this!” What is changed them, in fact, is not the doctrine that I teach but the fact that the contents of the faith enter into their life, casting a new light and giving a new taste to things.
These new friends of ours always come to the activities of the parish, in particular to the numerous cookouts that we have in the courtyard. During one of these occasions, A-Zhen said to me, “Shen fu, from the moment that we started coming here I am happier, and my life is changing. I am very grateful to you all.” But then he added, “But I do not want to be baptized.” I asked him why. “Baptism is a huge thing, and it asks me to change my life. I’m not sure if I am ready. For example, I smoke, but now I’ve understood that smoking goes against the love for oneself” – I had never spoken of this to him – “And I am not sure that I will have the strength to stop after my Baptism.” I said to him, “You have understood well, and exactly for this reason you must be baptized. You just need to let God change you, little by little.”
Dong Dong, A-Zhen and their three children were baptized together during the parish festival of 2015. As a baptismal name for their youngest, they used the name, “Emma,” because they wanted to call her Ema, after myself (the Chinese have a hard time with double consonants.)
Not long ago, Dong Dong’s father, who had only recently arrived from China and was already sick, passed away. They asked me to celebrate a Catholic funeral, but, as he wasn’t baptized, I was able to celebrate very few of the funeral rites. Afterwards, I asked the daughter how she felt and she responded, “I felt that God was at our side, full of love. I hope that Grandpa is in already in heaven. God is truly a merciful Father!”
Emanuele Angiola is pastor of the parish of St. Francis Xavier, in Taipei, Taiwan. In the image, he administers the baptism of a young parishioner.