Mariano Gazpio and the missionary's loneliness

With this letter we began to publish the sample, announced days ago, of ten letters written by the Augustinian Recollect Mariano Gazpio. At present the author recounts one of his first races through the missionary territory entrusted to him, at the request of Friar Francisco Javier Ochoa, superior of the Mission of Kweiteh, Henan, China at that time, although years later he would be appointed Bishop of the Diocese of the same name, today Shangqiu.
News | 2020 Oct 26

In 1924 the first Augustinian arrived at the Kweiteh Mission, it is strange and causes admiration that in the period of about a year or so a missionary carried out a missionary run given the special difficulties of the Chinese language for a European, apart from the customs and cultures different from that of a Westerner.

Mariano Gazpio wrote this letter in Chengliku, his missionary center, on April 15, 1925 and addressed it to JavierOchoa.  In it he gathers his experience of visiting two small towns called Pichuchuan and Silionchuan, where there were some Christians, but surrounded by peoples who had not yet come to faith in Christ Jesus.

His means of transport was a carriage dragged by two cows and a donkey, and it took more than two hours to reach, although the distance he had to travel was about ten kilometers.

Gazpio's brushstrokes, the various situations in which he lived in these missionary walks, paint magnificently the substance that the missionary was made of - his patience, his delicacy of treatment, the spirit of prayer, missionary zeal, and the fine sense of law enforcement, such as Eucharistic fasting.

The missionary regrets the scarcity of resources for catechesis and the practice of prayers, but without fuss. More striking is their attitude of  welcoming those more than poor people who may expect something to come to them than they assume the missionary has, but reality is another.

The poverty in which the lives of those lost peoples unfolded on china's central plain is shocking. Everything is muddy: mud houses, mud walls, mud streets and squares and roads...

Despite this poverty, the missionary is always greeted by Christians and catechumens as good news, because they know that the "father" reaches his people, his “villorrio” or his house in peace, that was no small task, because they were accustomed to all kinds of mishaps on the part of thieves and bandits and, if there were military clashes, even by soldiers or mercenaries on one side or the other.

Mariano Gazpio  perceives the importance of catechists in missionary work despite their poor formation, because they become key pieces for religious instruction; they are also often the animators and maintainers of religious practices and the faith of Christian groups and catechumens, especially in the face of the scarcity of "parents"; this is clear from this letter addressed to Javier Ochoa..

 

Original letter

[We have tried to respect the original text, although today some expressions are a little strange to us]

"My esteemed Father Javier  [Ochoa]:

It is of no importance what I can tell you here; but since your reverence so much begs us to write something for our dear Bulletin, receive these lines for your peace and comfort, and at the same time joy of those who read them, seeing that in this part of the Lord's vineyard the Recollects begin to sow the good seed of the gospel among these unhappy people.

On March 14, executing Father Cattaneos’ wish and what your reverence indicated in his letter, accompanied by the catechist and two Christians, fresh from Pichuchuan, two o'clock in the afternoon, I rode in a carriage pulled by two cows and a donkey and headed to Pichuchuan, distance twenty lis (ten kilometers) from Chengliku.

[...] At four and a quarter we enter Pichuchuan. [...]

The catechist came out to meet me, accompanied by the children of the school, and after greeting me, as they usually do, we all together head to the house that serves as a chapel.

Now the Christians and catechumens came from the people to greet the father.

The number of Christians in this village amounts to ten and eight, most adults and six years have received the regenerating waters of baptism. The catechumens are three. There is no woman baptized or who goes to the chapel to pray the prayers; and so they will continue as long as they do not have a woman paid for by the missionary, who is in charge of teaching them prayers, because you must know, beloved reader, that the Chinese do not take care to teach their wives the holy law of God, nor is there among them someone who can work for free for the love of God and art.

It acts as a chapel, a school for Christians and catechumens, a dwelling place of the catechist and a missionary's inn, a small house, owned by a catechumen, all of it of dirt, with a thatched roof and without windows of any kind. It measures three meters wide by three and a half of length and two and a half meters in height, and for convenience the catechist has his corresponding kitchen there. This shack does serve for something!!

I didn't find but one bad table and a chair at school; and, seeing no books of any kind, ask them how they were rigged to study the prayers. To which one of them, bringing an old book, answered me by saying that the book he presented to me was that of the catechist, and that from him the students were used to learn the prayers.

At five o'clock in the afternoon, the catechist's sister came forward to greet me, begging me to hear her confession soon, because I had to go to a seven lis village  far from  Pichuchuan. At the  moment I set out to confess her, and her example was imitated by most Christians, who then successively approached the sacred pool to wash their souls.

When I finished confessing, the catetechmens and Christians gathered in the chapel to pray the evening's prayers. They then served me dinner and, as I gave the body the necessary food, the Christians honored me with their presence. Then ask me to write four notes; and the Chinese, who write their devilish characters with an effortless calm, never ceased to be surprised that I wrote so quickly.

None of those present knew our writing, but that is not why they were tired of looking at and looking at what I wrote; and someone was so curious that he put his head glued to the same paper, imagining that in this way he would understand what he had not seen until then.

At nine-thirty they said goodbye to me and went home to rest. I also prepared to give the body proper rest, when in this I notice that someone very carefully opened the door of the room.  Let him come in and speak; and the newcomer, as good Chinese, with great mystery begins to tell me that that house where I was then and that present serves as a school for catechumens and Christians, is his property, that he has not yet received holy baptism, but that his son, who was present, and an older one had already received it. As a good father he weighed on me how much his son knew, how well he recited the prayers and how elegantly he wrote the characters; and this one, neither short nor lazy, instantly brought me a large amount of papers written by him, along with the book of prayers. Little or no grace made me both father and son, but for not snubing the father I had the patience to stay half an hour seeing the characters the little one had written at school.

Finally seeing that, if I let them speak, that session would have no end.  When it reached ten, I dismissed them, and I went to bed. At six o'clock I got out of bed, washed myself  with hot water, as the Chinese do, and set up the altar at a small old table there. Soon the Christians and catechumens came to the chapel; and while they prayed the prayers, I prayed matins and prepared to celebrate the holy sacrifice of Mass.

At Mass I divided sacred communion to nine Christians.

After giving thanks, some Christians came up to me asking for prints, medals, rosaries and how much they wanted.

On the present occasion I had nothing at hand of what they wanted and I was forced to tell them that when they went to Chengliku I would give them what they asked for, because then it was impossible for me. But that's why they stopped asking, and there was one so inopportune and annoying that he didn't stop asking all morning.

After lunch I intended to head to Silionchuan but, as no Christian from this town arrived, I left the chapel for a walk on the outskirts of town.

The houses of this villorrio are all made of dirt and it is not even for example a brick one. It adds up to thirteen families, of which, as the catechist and Christians tell me, ten are Christians.

It has a wall of land, but in very bad condition. She is surrounded by countless small villages as small as him, but none of them worship the true God. I hadn't been walking for half an hour, when I heard voices of little kids calling me from the wall. I came to their voices and they would hurry to tell me to go to the chapel, because a Christian from Silionchuan had just arrived with the intention of accompanying me.

I went to the chapel and indeed saw that it was true how much the children had told me. I was greeted very affectionately by the newly arrived Christian, and, once my luggage is prepared, we set off for Silionchuan mycatechist, a Christian from Pichuchuan, the newcomer and the one who writes this.

The afternoon was nice and quiet, so we were able to comfortably travel the distance of twenty lis that  average between the two villages.

At four-thirty in the afternoon we arrive at the chapel or house that does its times. Christians and catechumens had never had the joy of hosting the missionary. This was the first time the father had visited them, which is why they should be joyful and joyful and come to him in a presurum to greet him; but because they did not have catechists then, not most catechumens took care to learn prayers, I noticed with sadness that they presented themselves somewhat embarrassed and withdrawn and without daring to face the father they did nothing but greet me and, instantly, as those who feared receiving a good respice, without letting me speak, went home.

Only a good old man, a Christian for six years, and about four catechumens were the ones who were ordinary with me.

I asked if they had books to study, and this is what the old man told me not to hand them out because it was useless.

At six o'clock in the afternoon two grandchildren of this good man began to go around the village, sounding a cowbell so that Christians and catechumens would come to the chapel to pray the prayers as usual. Much touched the cowbell and waited at the door of the chapel to see if they could all gather; but after half an hour, seeing that it was impossible what they wanted, they began about twelve, between boys and greats, to pray prayers.

After dinner I sat down to confess, but as much as the good old man warned that Christians would come to confess, only three came.

I asked for a relationship between the Christians and catechumens of the place and it added to six Christians with thirty catechumens, including several of some neighboring villages. Ordinarily they come to chapel five or six between Christians and catechumens.

At nine and three quarters we went to bed, and I say we went to bed because my catechist and the Christian of Pichuchuan were precisely needed to sleep together in the same room intended for the father.

At six in the morning we left the bed, they poured me hot water and prepared the altar helped by my catechist.

Christians and catechumens on this day were also not too solicitous to come and hear the holy sacrifice of Mass. I took the breviary to pray the hours, and after a while a Christian is presented accompanied by several catechumens us with his corresponding teapot in hand and very satisfied ask me if I want to take ch'a. And it's not just this, but my catechist repeated his offer to me again. But do you not know, I replied, that if the father drinks ch'a, he cannot celebrate the holy sacrifice of Mass? You, if you don't have to eat, you can drink ch'a. And then the very serious catechist, like the one who comes out of a deep sleep, replies: It is true, it is true. When about twelve of Them met between Christians and catechumens, I turned up and began the holy sacrifice of Mass. During Holy Mass, the usual prayers prayed, but when I finished giving holy communion to a Christian, then a pagan woman came to her husband or son from afar to go to eat, and this, heard by my Christians and catechumens, was enough and left so that, leaving the chapel, without notice that the mass was not over, they rushed away and ran home. Only the good old man, his grandson, and my two companions remained listening to the holy sacrifice for the journey and night.

In places where there are Christians, if they are to come to the chapel daily to pray the prayers, there is no choice but to put a catechist who is in charge of teaching prayers to the children of Christians and catechumens; that at certain times call Christians to the chapel to pray, and encourage the heathen at the same time to recognize the true God and instruct thee to receive holy baptism.

Otherwise Christians become entive, their children grow up without religious instruction, and catechumens never manage to properly prepare to receive the sacrament of baptism.

But I let you know, dear reader, that finding catechists who wish to serve for free is not possible, so notice the money that is required, not only to convert souls, but also to keep the converted faithful to God. This village is extremely small, will not have even ten families and is five lis  from the Sub-Perfection of Yo  chengsien. It has no wall of any kind, no sign of having it. The house that serves as a chapel, all of it on land, with a window covered with paper and door, when it has it as straw; it measures two and a half meters in height by four in width and six in length. After lunch, as I prepared to return to my residence, five catechumens from a neighboring town showed up to greet me and ask me for books.  I handed out the few that I had and set out on my way to Chengliku. At two in the afternoon I arrived at my poor but beloved residence.

It is as far as the present can refer to his afmo and younger brother. Friar Mariano Gazpio  of the Pure Conception".

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Augustinian Recollects Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

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