Q: Sister Bernarda, you are a Daughter of Saint Paul; your charism is communication and mission: to make Christ known. In your trips to Asia, what has been your specific role? What have you tried to do in those missionary journeys in Asia?
Sister Bernarda: I arrived in Asia invited by my Sisters of Macao.
Q: Was this the first country you visited?
Sister Bernarda: <It was> the first country I visited. And the purpose of my service was Spiritual Exercises for the Sisters. Through this spiritual animation within the community -- which at times other women religious, a priest, groups also of laymen joined --, through these spiritual animations I was able to get to know somewhat the reality of China, the reality of these countries.
Q: In your trips to China, to different places such as Macao, Taiwan and Hong Kong, you faced or touched the reality of the Church in Continental China. What is the situation of the Church in that land?
Sister Bernarda: The situation of the Church in Continental China is different from these other countries of China, where the Church can express herself freely. In Continental China, instead, the Church does not have the right to express herself. Being in Macao, through missionaries, dialogue with persons, a publication I had the opportunity to read on the martyrs of China, I learned to a degree the elements of this reality. For example, the clear distinction between the “Republican” Church which is tolerated by the regime.
Q: What is called the Patriotic Association, the Patriotic Church which is allowed by the government?
Sister Bernarda: By the government and the underground Church. I think the two Churches are a presence of God in these people who hunger and thirst for God. This was my first impression, the whole Far East which does not know Jesus Christ except minimally, is hungry and thirsty for God, and for the living God, as the Psalm says.
Q: How is that desire manifested? How did you perceive it in the people?
Sister Bernarda: By the welcome they give to what is said to them about God, the simplicity of their lives, their search, there is also great humility in them. Perceived in any conversation is their hunger for God. I had the opportunity to get to know a religious community of the “Republican” Church; it was very interesting. It was founded by a young girl of China supported by the community of the Pauline Sisters of Macao. They supported this girl who lived a few months with us to learn to be a religious and then she took the risk to start an institution and began …
Q: With an official Church recognized by the government?
Sister Bernarda: An official, recognized <Church>. They had a great development, and began to work with the press, they could do their work, print catechisms, and the government also asked them to work in the social service for special children and they accepted. Then their work became one of communication and social service, in a short time they numbered 100. Extraordinary! Having great spiritual vitality, our Sisters of Macao continued to support them, to advice and maintain them. Now they are a great solid community.
Q: But, didn’t they face problems when preaching the Gospel in Continental China?
Sister Bernarda: They can’t preach the Gospel publicly. All their work is very discreet. They must be very prudent. Being supported to a degree by the government, they must tread more carefully I would say, no? However, they can work. There are many risks there. The situation of the “Republican” Church is very complex, very complex.
Q: In fact, you also said that you got to know to a degree the reality of the difficulties of the faith and also of the martyrs. China is the land of many martyrs, but it is also a land of much hope for the future of the Church. Is there a particular story that attracted your attention in this context of the martyrdom of the faith?
Sister Bernarda: The life of the underground Church. To be able to gather as a community, the Christians of the hidden Church must celebrate the Eucharist in basements and the government knows this, so it’s always trying to catch those who go there. And one of the things that edified and moved me most was that there is such great love for the Eucharist that Christians risk their lives, some every day, others every eight days, to take part in the Eucharist.
Q: What can we learn from them, as it is a very young Church, newly born?
Sister Bernarda: The courage of faith. It’s a heroic faith, young persons, of all ages, who know that if they are found gathered, can suffer torture, imprisonment or death. And that doesn’t stop them from risking themselves, because they feel they get great strength from the Eucharist, and it is what enables them to continue living their faith.
Q: What is wrong with us, who have the possibility of going to Mass around the corner every day, there are churches everywhere, and we don’t go. Why do they give their lives and we don’t care, we’re bored to go to Mass?
Sister Bernarda: I think we lack conviction in our faith. At times faith for us – I’m speaking of the West – is more a doctrine, some learned truths, or a tradition. But not for them. For them it’s an option of life, a gift, but they receive it as an option of life. And when an Oriental opts for something, he risks his life. In the publication I came across there were more than 200 martyrs of China.
Q: Those are the ones who are documented.
Sister Bernarda: And it hasn’t stopped. It continues, it continues. Every now and then there are impressive stories. I think the essence is there. Their faith is an option of life, a profound conviction. I say to myself, whoever really encounters Jesus Christ and lets himself be attracted by Him, cannot fail to follow Him, I can’t fail to follow him, and I believe that’s what they do.
Q: In this connection, what can the Church in China learn from the Western Church, which is older, and also with more vices. Can it learn something from us, Christians of the West?
Sister Bernarda: Yes, I think it depends on our witness. In general, the faith does not shine in the Far East, let’s say it this way, for its sense of community. It’s an individual, personal faith. What is lacking is the sense of fraternity, which Christ formed with his community of disciples and later with the <larger> community. I think that if we lived the communal dimension of our faith more profoundly, our being Christians with others, not alone, sharing life, the sufferings of others, we would give great witness. Something else that they would expect from us is consistency.
Q: Do you think consistency is lacking in Christianity?
Sister Bernarda: Among them, not so much, but among us, yes. I think the Western Church learned doctrine, sometimes very well, and she also learned to repeat it, but all of a sudden the faith did not touch our existence profoundly. I’m generalizing, of course. There are so many beautiful testimonies, but I’m speaking of things in general, such as the image we project: often a superficial faith.
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This interview was conducted by Johannes Habsburg for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
[Translation by ZENIT]
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