Catholic conclave abides in Tibetan village
Updated: 2013-10-05 07:35
By Liu Xiangrui, Wang Huazhong and Daqiong (China Daily)
Historic church restored as worship continues, Liu Xiangrui, Wang Huazhong and Daqiong report.
Maria, 61, a Catholic, cleans her home at the Upper Yanjing village. She visits the church everyday. Kuang Linhua / China Daily
As usual the church bell rings at 7:40 pm. Its deep tones resonate throughout the valley, clearly heard in surrounding villages. Locals arrive after supper. Mothers carry children on their backs, husbands bring their wives on motorbikes and seniors walk together.
They take time to chat in the hall outside before entering the church at 8:30 pm.
As devotees in traditional Tibetan clothes hold crosses before their chests and recite Christian prayers, it is easy to get confused about where you are.
The religious assembly has been going on for more than a century in Upper Yanjing village, Markam county, eastern Tibet autonomous region. It is home to the only Catholic church and followers in Tibet.
Set on a mountain ridge, the church was rebuilt in 2002. Its architecture is typically Tibetan with ornamental eaves in colorful patterns. It would be hard to tell it is a church except for the big cross on its upper facade.
But the interior is in Western style with a high vaulted roof. Even so, some Tibetan and Buddhist elements have been used. Hada blessing silks and traditional tangka painted with holy icons are common.
A middle-aged woman from Yunnan province now lives alone in the church. Besides cleaning work, she also rings the bell every day to call villagers to prayer.
About 80 percent of the local population - slightly more than 700, most of them Tibetans - are Catholics, according to village chief Soinam Wangmo.
"The belief is basically passed down within families and the number has been relatively stable in recent years," she said.
Two French missionaries brought Catholicism to the area in 1865. Historians say the pair succeeded because they wisely adapted to local conditions.
Staying first with villagers, they gave free medical treatment and helped the poor. They also offered alms to a local Buddhist monastery and won permission from monks and devotees to start missionary work.
They soon purchased land from the monastery and built a church. Their charitable efforts included handing out land to local farmers, helping them build houses, taking in orphans and the poor, and establishing a school and clinic.
The work gradually fostered a few Catholic believers among the villagers who had been Buddhists.