A shower of roses in Beijing

By  Christl Dabu, Catholic Register Special
  • December 19, 2006
Chinese Singles for ChristBEIJING, China - She sat at the hospital bed, her baby face brightening as visitors came to hold her hand, tell her stories and shower her with gifts of s'mores, pizza and, most of all, roses.

A year ago, I didn't yet know 14-year-old Faustina Fan well as I had just arrived in  China from Toronto. But when a fellow parishioner sent an SMS via the cellphone last October saying the young Beijinger needed our prayers, the Singles For Christ faith group I had just joined at South Cathedral (Nan Tang) came to her hospital bedside each week.

Faustina suffers from a blood disease, which makes it difficult for her body to heal from wounds and stop bleeding.

During one visit, I asked Faustina about a bouquet of roses by her bedside, which she said hospital staff left for patients like her. I told her how St. Therese of Lisieux is my favourite saint who sometimes sends signs of roses to show prayers are heard and answered. Encouraging me to admire them up close, she said, her eyes twinkling: "They smell very nice, don't they?"

Faustina — out of the hospital since January and doing better, she wrote in a recent Thanksgiving card she e-mailed — later revealed she thought her illness had a purpose: to bring people like her closer to God.

"Actually, it's a miracle," she said. "I learned it's God's gift to know how much He cares for me."

She said a Chinese prayer group from Nan Tang came to see her at the hospital. Before their visits, she said, the group had stopped meeting.

"But when they came to see me, they said I (brought) people together. The group would meet together and share (their faith again)," she explained.

Despite her difficult treatment and at times losing faith that she would be saved, she kept a brave face at the hospital, eager to chat as she curled up with one of her stuffed toy gifts.

"I used all the medicine in the world to solve the problem," she said, adding that she even had surgery to remove her spleen, and tried chemotherapy and Chinese and Western medicines, but her platelet count still remained low.

"I know a lot of people were caring and praying, and God will really hear it and He'll do the rest," she said.

Those who gathered near her hospital bed were not only Chinese but also expatriates from all over the world. Seeing the courage, faith and optimism of someone so young and new to Catholicism was inspiring. It was one way Chinese and foreign parishioners, including myself, grew closer like a family after seeing the miracle of her survival.

I also believe I received roses in China. I saw God's face in others' kindness, conviction and strong faith, and the little miracles I experienced with the support and prayers of Nan Tang friends, especially since I was far from home and I didn't know a soul before arriving there.

My faith especially came alive during Sundays at Nan Tang, an official government-recognized Catholic cathedral in Beijing, and it didn't end after the pews emptied. It was unexpected and ironic that I never became more involved in the church and appreciated and experienced God more than during my one-year stay in an officially atheist country. I was surprised at how quickly the Nan Tang group bonded, with most Singles For Christ members being Chinese Catholics. We opened up each week in sharing our faith, prayers and problems in fellowship meetings after Mass. Throughout the week, we even kept in touch through text messages with prayers, encouragement and faith sharing.

Though the church in China was facing its own challenges and newfound materialism was sweeping the country, the foreign and Chinese Catholics I got to know focused on serving God and helping others. They held my hand when I, too, experienced my own troubles with coping with the challenges of living in a new country.

On my last night in China, Dhelle Serrano, one of my close friends from the church in Beijing, gave me a rose, just like the one for Faustina. It was a sign reminding me that faith was alive, no matter where you are in the world.

(Dabu is a Toronto-based journalist who recently worked in Beijing,  Shanghai and Hong Kong  for a year.)

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