CHRISTMAS IN CIZHONG
Deep in the Chinese province of Yunnan, on the border with Burma and Tibet, a pass through the passes at an altitude of 4,300 metres leads us along the Mekong River to the village of Cizhong where the priest Yao Fei welcomes the rare visitors. In this Tibetan village, the fervour of Catholic Tibetans in preparing for Christmas celebrations fascinates as much as it intrigues.
North Yunnan, where the village of Cizhong is located, is part of the Kham - as witnessed by the headdress of the village's women - a large Tibetan historical region, mainly influenced by the secular religion of Tibetan Buddhism and the political control of the Lamas. The devotees of the village, 80% Catholic, maintain here an astonishing Christian tradition in the very heart of the ancient Lamaist kingdoms.
The church, built a century ago in the Sino-Romanesque style - its construction was decided in 1909 and the church, built entirely of stone and wood frame, was blessed in 1911 by Father Monbeig (1876-1942) - has been welcoming the faithful once again since 1979. The songs that mark the beginning of the Mass resemble Buddhist mantras and contrast with the more classical Latin inscription "Ecce Agnus Dei" written above the tabernacle.
The mass on December 25th is followed by a village meal in front of the church, where Chinese cream cakes delight the children while the youngest drink barley alcohol and red wine from the former French priests. A missionary tradition maintained here, the wine of the vines sent from France at the time is always pressed every year in September. This is followed by traditional Tibetan dances and songs that recall the tradition of these Tibetan Latvians to celebrate the high points of the calendar with great pomp and ceremony to resist the sheer power and lustre of rival lamas.
The development of these remote missions was indeed carried out in the violence and permanent opposition of the local spiritual competitors: the monasteries of the region never ceased to destroy and eliminate these Christian works, which were already so laborious. While the two tombs in the church enclosure (fathers Ouvrard and Van Eslande) welcomed missionaries who died of sickness and old age, the other missionaries of the region more often experienced martyrdom like Father Dubernard, massacred on 26 July 1905 by "pagans who had been bribed by the lamas". Now appreciated by locals and Chinese authorities alike, this little Christian community in Cizhong is trying to keep the Christmas spirit alive.