On Sunday afternoon, Priest Joseph brought me south along the west bank of the Lan-cang River. After traveling about ten kilometers we reached a small village called Ci-gu. This village, with its inspiring and tragic missionary history, was once an important landmark of Catholicsim in the Lang-cang River valley.
In 1850, Father Charles Alexis Renou and Father Jean Charles Fage, priests of Missions Etrangeres de Paris, passed through mountain passage from Wei-xin village, Yunnan, crossed Biluo Snow Mountain, finally arriving at the Nu-jiang River Valley, a place called Bonga, which is in Tibet. In 1854, they built the first Catholic mission in Tibet. In 1862, Renou again traveled northeast, crossing Mei-li Snow Mountain to arrive at a place called Yen-jing in the Lan-cang River Valley. However, on this trip, Renou was killed by lamas, making him the first martyr priest in Tibet.
Later on, in 1865, in the name of protecting Tibetan Buddhism, the four major monasteries of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Ganden Monastery and Tashlhunpo Monastery, put out the call, “Pledge on your life not to make contact with foreigners. Do not allow the invasion of foreign powers.” This call not only set into action the banishment of missionaries, but also the destruction of churches.
Moreover, it developed into the consensus opinion of Lamaism in the opposition of Western ReligAt the end of the same year, the lamas of Mang-kang led about three hundred armed followers to attack the mission in Bonga valley. The Catholic missionaries fled with their followers to the Lan-cang River valley. Throughout their journey, the Tibetan Catholics felt utterly dejected, as no other Tibetans along the way dared to get close to them. They continued to flee south along the Lan-cang River until they reached the border of the Badong Lord of the Naxi. The Badong Lord took pity upon them and gave them the land at Ci-gu. This is the origin of the church in Ci-gu. (See Photo 1)
Later, the lamas once again came to destroy the Catholics, and burnt down the church in Ci-gu. The French Priest, with a Chinese name, Father Pu, fled with seven nuns and the rest of the followers, but the priest was caught. The lamas held him on the west bank of the Lan-cang River and finally decapitated him. The seven nuns were drowned in the river while still clutching their religious objects.
Afterward, some of the treaties signed by the Qing Dynasty and Western nations following the opium wars were extremely protective of missionaries. The murder of a priest or the destruction of a church became a very big deal. Therefore, the Qing Government ordered the lama monasteries to compensate the churches. The church members chose the piece of land in Ci-zhong. In 1905, they built the splendid and magnificent church we can still see today.
It is said that before being decapitated, Priest Pu said to the church members that if there was anything they needed, he would pass the message on to God. No one can be sure if the priest really said these words before dying, but a half century later, village face a drought or if the orchards are short of water, church members gather before the priest’s grave to pray for rain (see Photo 2).
Later when Priest Joseph took the position in Ci-gu, the church members were extremely excited. With the arrival of Priest Joseph, not only could they chant the rosary and pray for rain, they could also attend Mass in front of Priest Pu's grave.
The church members all claim that praying for rain through Priest Pu is very effective. I can believe them. Otherwise, how could the rainmaking ceremonies persist for half a century?
(Written by Gene Quinton, to be continued)
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