Catholics in Macau participate in a procession to honor Mother Mary in this file photo. (Photo: Jornal O Clarim)
Catholics in Macau welcomed the Year of the Ox by connecting their religious faith with Chinese culture and tradition as they joined special thanksgiving Masses to honor Our Lady of China in the former Portuguese colony.
The faithful joined special Masses in nine parishes of Macau Diocese in the Chinese-ruled territory starting from Feb. 12.
The tradition of connecting faith with culture for the lunar new year has been in place since the time of Macau Diocese’s last Portuguese bishop, D. Arquiminio Rodrigues da Costa (1976-83).
Father Daniel Ribeiro, parish vicar of the Cathedral of our Lady of the Nativity, said the Macau Church has accepted local culture and combined it with the faith.
“The Chinese New Year is part of the local culture, and as part of the local culture it is accepted by the Church. And in what sense is it accepted? The Church respects culture and the lunar new year is celebrated by the Church with a certain liturgical adaptation,” Father Ribeiro told Jornal O Clarim, the Catholic magazine of Macau Diocese.
With the cathedral under renovation, all its services have been temporarily transferred to St. Dominic's Church.
Luis Leong, a Catholic and former candidate for Macau Legislative Assembly, said that Chinese culture and Catholic teachings have intermingled without any conflicts.
“Quite clearly, there is almost no conflict between the Catholic faith and the lunar new year tradition. The Catholic Church has always had a great capacity to assimilate the traditions of the Gentiles and this is particularly evident in Macau, a city with a strong Chinese and Western influence,” Leong said.
He noted that Bishop Rodrigues da Costa once made a special request to the Holy See and received permission to hold celebrations for Our Lady of China on the day of the lunar new year.
The devotion to Meter Dei (Latin for “Mother of God”) or Our Lady of China in Macau dates back to the late 19th century and is connected to two Marian apparition and pilgrimage sites — one in Donglu in Hebei province, the other in Sheshan in Shanghai.
During the Boxer Revolution (1899-1901), an armed anti-Christian and anti-imperialist insurrection in northern China, hundreds of rebels attacked Christian villages in Donglu four times, but each time they were defeated. Christians credited the victory to their devotion and prayer to Mother Mary of Donglu.
Popular legend has it that the boxers were weakened to see a Lady in White who appeared on top of a hill to save the villagers. Mother Mary appeared dressed in white accompanied by a multitude of angels and an impetuous knight (believed to be Archangel Michael) to drive away enemies.
In 1924, during the Council of China, church authorities accepted Mother Mary of Donglu as Our Lady of China and decided to take steps to popularize devotion among Catholics.
Father Wu, pastor of Donglu, commissioned a painting of Mother Mary holding the Child Jesus, clad in golden imperial robes. This painting became the image of Our Lady, Queen of China, which was blessed and promulgated by Pope Pius XI in 1928.
The popular annual feast of Mary was merged with the lunar new year in Macau during the time of Bishop Rodrigues da Costa.
Macau, a casino-cum-resort city, is a special administrative region of China that was under Portuguese rule from 1557 to 1999. With a population of about 680,000 in an area of about 33 square kilometers, Macau is one of the world’s most densely populated places.
Catholicism in Macau bears the legacy of Portuguese rule. Macau Diocese covers the entire island and has about 30,000 Catholics in nine parishes. Pope Gregory XIII erected the Diocese of Macau on Jan. 23, 1576, making it the first diocese created in the Far East.