Those monks really got around!
Our plane landed in Xian, China, on Easter Sunday morning, 2009. When we boarded our bus and were getting acquainted with our new tour guide, 'Linda,' some of the group asked if it might be possible to stop by a church because it was Easter. Linda thought for a moment, then said that the cathedral where most Westerners would go was on the other side of the city, and too far to go. But, she said, she might know a place.
The bus made its way into central Xian, with our guide having to give directions as we went. After a while we turned onto a side street and pulled up in front of a gate. As we gazed through the gate, we saw this- a Spanish style Catholic church. Not just that, but a busy place with people of all ages having come out for Easter services. The courtyard was dressed up with banners, and just inside the gate was an inflatable rainbow arch with some kind of sign attached. On either side of the church were banners, and throughout there were people of all ages: old folks who had survived revolutions, both literal and cultural, middle class families, young people and little children.
Some of our group went inside with our guide who, to their surprise, knew the priest already. Hmmm. She acted as translator while he gave them a short homily followed by Holy Communion. It couldn't have worked out better.
I stayed outside taking pictures. I felt a tug at my sleeve, and there was a young girl looking up at me. I smiled. Then she spoke haltingly in English: 'You are very old.' My grin widened, and I replied, 'Yes. I am 59 years old.' I had been warned that my blond hair and white beard would get me recognized as Santa Claus in China. Old men with white beards are respected.
I asked the little girl, 'How old are you?' and she said, counting on her fingers to help remember her English numbers, 'I am ten.' I spotted her mother nearby with a camera, so I asked the girl, while making signs to her mother, if they would like to take a picture, and they both enthusiastically nodded.
And so somewhere in a home in Xian there is a photograph of me standing next to a beaming Chinese girl who met a 'very old' American man at church on Easter Sunday.