Twins’ Chat

What do twins talk about before they are born? (the China connection is that this was sent to me by a Chinese lady.)

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

(The other photo is of the daffodils in our garden, there from before 1 Jan! A sign of good things to come? ) 

And what about the New Year in China?

In China the 1 January New Year has no particular feelings attached to it. It is just a time to party or relax. While Christmas is viewed as a religious celebration which might challenge the Marxist ‘economic realities only’ ideology, New Year is at worst just another Western innovations. It even boosts economic consumption so is accepted as a public holiday.

The real or Chinese ‘New Year’ will come in a month’s time with genuine cultural and religious overtones. That is the time when people take a few days off, families which may have been separated by long distances get together and old customs respecting ancestors and elders are revived.

When you think of it, in Ireland too New Year’s Day does not have the buzz of celebration like Christmas, Easter or even Halloween.  There are few memorable stories or customs associated with it. Maybe this is because it does not have a long history. Even the Church does not have a special feast to celebrate it.

The modern or Gregorian calendar, which situates New Year’s Day on  1 January, was not launched until 1582 and only in 1751 was it accepted in England (and Ireland.)  It was not recognised in China until 1912.  Today eleven cultures still do not recognise it and celebrate their New Year on dates ranging from March to June and even into our autumn (understandably especially in the Southern Hemisphere).

Looking forward to 2019, we are likely to feel an increase of China’s economic and cultural power and, to be fair, there are many useful lessons to be learnt from it.  

In the meantime, A Happy ‘Western’ New Year to All! 

No Christmas this year in China

During this Christmas Day in China students will be sitting annual exams and on strict government orders all institutions, including schools, not to celebrate, or display, any sign of the festival.

Yet, China manufactures four-fifth of Christmas decorations sold in the USA.

The government is in a bind. Its economy needs Christmas and not only for the export market. Young people like a reason to party and business enjoys the boost in local sales. 

However, the authorities feel they must downplay the occasion as part of its efforts to remove foreign cultural and religious influences.

Christmas is (originally) a religious event and the government is in the midst of efforts to supress religion, especially Islam in its less developed West and Christianity in its highly developed East.

Religion is seen as a threat to the government’s assurance of a complete paradise in this world (if not now, in the next generation or the one after that).

Meanwhile, 100 million Christians in China will go about silently celebrating a wider understanding of human aspirations.

A Happy Christmas to All!    Hugh.

Hospital Experience

Most people in Ireland know, or have been to, the Mater Hospital in Dublin.

 It copes with 21, 500 in-patients a year and is usually noisy and crowded. However, in a quiet corner is the splendid Pillar Room where important functions are held.

 Last weeks I was at a ceremony there, the graduation of five students from the CPE or Hospital Chaplaincy course. Two of them were Asian, one from China and one from Korea. Unfortunately neither of them will be chaplains in Irish hospitals as they will return home soon and bringing their skills with them.

The presence of two Asian trainee chaplains in the Mater probably attracted little notice as over 60 nationalities are represented among the staff.  However most of the patients are Irish and, listening to the reports, the majority seemed delighted to meet with chaplains from the other side of the world.

 The pleasure was not just on one side. The new Chinese graduate,who happens to be one of the residents in our house, told those attending how much the faith of the patients has affected him. The manner in which they drew on that faith to cope with the difficulties in their lives was an inspiration.  Faith can be studied and talked about, but seeing its practice implications makes its value clear.

 We might be living in a ‘New Ireland’ but it is encouraging to hear that enough faith remains to inspire young people from Asia and elsewhere. 

New Opportunities for Going to China

Over 570 Irish students when to China in 2016 with scholarships to study not only Chinese but a range of business related subjects.

Some went under a scheme backed by the Chinese government to cover all expenses except travel to and from China.  A monthly living allowance of 320 euro is offered as well as a settling-in subsidy of 190 euro.

If the student wishes to study a subject in Chinese, courses in the language are covered for one to two years.

There is also a summer program from Ireland that includes three weeks of language study and five weeks internship in a business company.

Since 1988 Aitece ( has facilitated people from Ireland interested in going go to China to teach English conversation and in the New Year two more volunteers will set out, keeping the tradition alive.

What Aitece does is encourage people to go to China, facilitate them in finding a post, prepares them for it and helps solve problems along the way.

It is convinced that Irish people can benefit a lot from experiencing attitudes and ideas which may contradict what is taken for granted here, yet are progressive and positive.

Should Aitece now move into facilitating younger people who would like to study in China?  It would seem to be the next step in creating bonds between China and Ireland and refreshing Irish society that is on the verge of being engulfed by Western consumer culture.

Building up relationships and Tearing down churches

Last week I joined 50 others at St Peters Church in Phibsborough to hear Fr Joseph Loftus CM reflect on recent developments in the China where he has spent the past twenty years.

Recently the Vatican entered a historic agreement with the Chinese government about the appointment of bishops. It accepts that the government will put forward three names and the Vatican will accept one or reject all.

Those among China’s ten million Catholics who accept the government’s role in guiding the Church see this as good news. It shows that both sides now recognise each other’s existence and this brings some order into a situation where some bishops were recognised only by Rome and others only by the government.

However, for those who do not recognise the Government’s right to have a say in religious matters, it is a betrayal of the twenty or so bishops who saw themselves as showing their loyalty to the Pope by avoiding government control.  Many of these are in jail and being told they must conform now that the Pope has entered into an agreement with the government.

To add to the confusion, there is at present a nation–wide crack-down on all religions in China. Christians have had outside statues and crosses forcibly removed and even entire church buildings demolished.  Some will say these anti-religious displays are only local and not everywhere, but it is not a reassuring atmosphere in which to have ‘friendly’ Vatican-Beijing talks.

Fr Joseph did his best to explain this puzzling situation and how the Christian faith still means so much to millions of Catholics in China today.  

From China to Maynooth

On Saturday last I was at Maynooth College for the graduations. This year 228 students received degrees ranging from Doctorate in Theology to Diploma in Philosophy and Arts.

Among them were four mainland Chinese priests but the vast majority were lay people, men and women of all ages. So the interest in religion and philosophy continues in the new secular Ireland.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, Chancellor of the University, remarked on this. He said it was exactly 100 years since a missionary movement from Maynooth to China took shape and today that tradition continues, in another form, as so many graduates go back to their families and occupations to talk about the questions to which they themselves had being seeking answers and what they had discovered.

He took the occasion to congratulate the Columban Fathers whose original name had been the ‘Maynooth Mission to China’  and who were still active there. Fortunately there were a number of them present.

Their reason for coming was to congratulate one of the four Chinese graduates who was sponsored by the Columbans and lives in our residence.

The celebrations continued afterwards with photo-taking and festal meals both at home and at a local Chinese restaurant.

A Chinese Book of Kells?

Duns Scotus could have played for Ireland, Scotland or England.

It probably does not matter now as he lived from 1266 to 1308 and his specialty was philosophy and theology, not football. However, he was acknowledged as one of the three top Western scholars in the High Middle Ages.

But it does matter if you are trying to discover links between Ireland and China.

In the Middle Ages Ireland was known as ‘Greater Scotia’ and its inhabitants as ‘Scotti’.  When they overflowed into Scotland and north England the name followed them and Scotland eventually became ‘Scotland’. Today Ireland, Scotland and England all claim Duns as one of theirs.

The China connection is that the Chinese Catholic Bible (of which one million copies have been printed) is popularly known as the ‘Duns Scotus Bible‘ because it emerged from the Duns Scotus Bible Centre in Hong Kong. This year its 50 Anniversary is being celebrated.

Beijing put on a celebration on 18 October and took the opportunity to hail the recent ‘provisional agreement’ between the Vatican and the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops. This agreement is regarded with misgivings by many ordinary Catholics in China and it was noted that the Hong Kong Bible Centre was not represented.

This possible indication of a combative attitude may help proved that Duns Scotus was Irish, though the Biblical Centre in Hong Kong announced it was taking a low key and not attending any celebration, in Beijing or elsewhere.

Anyhow, the name of an Irishman (or ‘Scotti’) is still on the most popular bible in China.

Behind the mask in China

Prepare to be scared.

Halloween is coming up and masks are popular again. The custom is said to have originated in the Celtic harvest festival, Samhain, but was absorbed into the Christian memorial for the dead on All Souls Day.  Hence the connection with ghosts.

In China they have a similar ‘Hungry Ghosts Festival’ in late summer.  To pacify the hungry spirits they leaving offerings of food outside their door or on hillsides. In Ireland the ‘trick or treaters’ are pro-active and collect on behalf of the ghosts.  There must be connection somewhere with the Mummers who dress up with masks and go around houses to beg or threaten people to give them a reward.

They are called ‘mummers’ even though the middle-English word ‘mum’ (as in, ‘mum’s the word’) means ‘silence’. Probably the performances originally were mimed.

Not so the mask-users in Beijing opera.

While (especially older) Chinese love their opera, most Westerners find it difficult. While colourful and loud, it can go on for hours. Locals don’t mind as the plot is based on legends they know by heart and they can drop in or out as they please.  There is a fair bit of miming and for the real fans the masks and costumes are as meaningful as numbered football jerseys. But the constant high-pitched singing is not likely to catch on here.

However, this Halloween try a Chinese Opera mask instead of the locally produced and give the people a real scare.  We belong to a wider world than we sometimes admit.

Two celebrations, two airlines

What is the difference between Air China and China Airlines?

A big difference if you are traveling in that part of the world because Air China belongs to China mainland and China Airlines to Taiwan.

On October 10th (10/10, the ‘Double Ten’) we celebrated Taiwan’s National Day, commemorating the Wuchang Uprising in 1911 that ended the Qing Dynasty and launched an independent Chinese Republic. Taiwan reclaims that heritage every ‘Double Ten’.

The mainland’s big day is October 1, the date in 1949 when Mao Zedong took over the country from Chang’s Kai Shek’s government which fled to Taiwan.  Since then the two Chinas have been in competition. For example, the mainland has a full embassy in Dublin while Taiwan only has a ‘Taipei Representative Office,’ reflecting their relative importance to Ireland.

Taiwan has full religious freedom but Christians make up only 3.9% of the population and growth is  slow. On the mainland religion is constrained but Christians form 5% and are increasing by 10% each year.

It would seem that while the Western form of Christianity has little appeal in the ‘old China’ of Taiwan, the younger generation in the ‘New China’ can identify with its spiritual and compassionate message despite the Western trappings.

However, that may not be the reason the Irish Government favours the bigger China.