ucanews.com reporter, YibinUpdated: December 10, 2012 08:36 PM GMT
As the clock ticks down to December 21, residents of Sichuan province – and indeed in many states and provinces around the world – are getting nervous.
On that day, for anyone who has not been reading newspapers or magazines in the last year, the world could come to an end.
That is, if you believe all the talk about the Mayan calendar.
Prognostications of the end of time are linked to a Mayan monument, on which a past ruler predicted the end of a 5,000-year cycle on December 21, 2012.
Some have interpreted this as the advent of the Apocalypse; others, simply the beginning of a new cycle. In the meantime, many have decided to stock up on a few necessary supplies just in case.
Last week, rumors began to spread in Neijiang city that the world will endure three days of darkness beginning on December 21. As a result, many of the city’s Catholic residents have flocked to markets to stock up on candles and matches.
Clerics in Yibin diocese, which administers Neijing and other cities in the province, have met the rumors with a mixture of good humor and concern.
“Many Catholics bring candles to me for blessing. I ask them why they buy so many,” said Father Benedict Yang of Neijiang parish.
“They did not tell me at first. When I asked if it was related to the rumor, they admitted that the candles were to prepare for the darkness,” he said.
The priest said he reminded them that their fears were unfounded.
“I told them that Jesus never said when the time will come, and that we Christians need to be vigilant all the time.”
He further added an admonition not to fall prey to enterprising shopkeepers, who have likely seen an opportunity to turn a profit on such fears.
Local media reports have cited shopkeepers who say their stocks of candles – particularly white ones, for some reason – have been flying off the shelves.
And the prices, predictably, have begun to rise as the rush has spread to other cities in the province.
Laywoman Teresa Wang in neighboring Nanchong diocese says the candle fever has affected her local parish.
“A candle that sold for about 0.35 yuan (US$0.06) in the past now sells for about one yuan,” she said.
Bishop Peter Luo Xuegang of Yibin said superstition is common enough and that Catholics needed to stand firm in their faith by resisting the “spiritual emptiness” that has driven others to fear.
“Some non-believers tend to be more superstitious and believe in prophecy. I have reminded our Catholics not to follow suit,” he said.
“The economy is not that good here [in Sichuan]. I can feel that many people have lost their direction of life and thus believe in fortune-telling.”
But it is not only priests who have fielded inquiries about the prophesied darkness.
A spokesperson for the Hong Kong observatory told ucanews.com that he has been fielding a growing number of enquiries from the public about the coming “doomsday” as December 21 approaches.
“We have no answer for them, except from a meteorological perspective,” said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.
“In my scope of knowledge, days of darkness never appear because the sun is always there,” he said.
He added, “We can only use the super-computer to predict the weather at a maximum of seven days, so we cannot tell what the weather will be like on December 21.”
Alex Mok, a physicist and professor of cosmology at Holy Spirit Seminary College in Hong Kong, dismissed the rumors of impending darkness, saying the prophecy gives no clue as to its cause.
“There could be two possibilities for the end of the world to happen. One is increased solar activity, which makes a lot of high-energy particles move towards the Earth,” he said.
Solar activity is cyclical, occurring roughly ever 11 years and increasing only gradually, he said.
“There is no evidence that the next solar activity will intensify suddenly.”
Mok, who is a Christian, said a second possibility is another celestial body “crashing into the Earth.” If that happened, he said, “it wouldn’t appear suddenly [on December 21].”
He concluded, “as Christians, we should have confidence in God and no need to worry. Aren’t we looking forward to the glorious return of Jesus Christ?”