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The Mianzhu Church in Sichuan province destroyed during the earthquake

Reconstruction inspires Sichuan Catholics

Wang Rui, Mianzhu

November 03 2010

The collapse of the 80-year-old church in Mianzhu city during an 8.0-magnitude quake in 2008 has driven many local Catholics to question their faith.

They asked questions such as, "Why was God's house destroyed?" or "How could God allow many people to suffer?"

Thirty months have passed since the deadly earthquake rocked Sichuan and neighboring provinces on May 12, 2008. One of the worst-hit areas was Mianzhu, north of Chengdu, southwestern China.

Though the reconstruction of Mianzhu church is yet to begin and local Catholics continue to use a makeshift venue for religious activities, parish priest Father James Li Jinxuan believes that spiritual rehabilitation is more significant.

The priest adds that Mianzhu has welcomed about 180 new Catholics since the catastrophe as people realized the importance of faith and relying on God for spiritual comfort.

Joseph Zhang, a newly-baptized Catholic, recalled the quake's nightmares. "If there was no encouragement from priests and nuns, I really don't know how I could live until today," he said.

Old Catholics like laywoman Maria Liao also became more faithful. "I seldom went to church before the quake. But after seeing Catholic nuns and volunteers serving victims selflessly, I have experienced God's love and presence. I regained hope, especially during weekly Masses," she said.

Retired civil servant Benedict Yu was also touched to see Catholic charities administered "in an organized way despite difficulties."

After getting baptized last Easter, Yu was invited by Father Li to be vice-chairperson of the parish's reconstruction committee.

Father Li said the original church site will be redeveloped into a shopping mall and the government has agreed to allot a larger piece of land in the new town to rebuild the church.

The new church will span nearly 2,300 square meters, with a church, a priest rectory, a nuns' convent, a laity formation center and a kindergarten. Father Li hopes that a groundbreaking ceremony will be celebrated before the year ends.

Most of the 59 churches in Chengdu diocese either collapsed or were seriously damaged by the earthquake. Besides Mianzhu, three other parishes have begun reconstruction.

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