Maryknoll Vocation Ministries is a service to the Maryknoll Society.
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November 11, 2011

A Seminarian visits Hong Kong and China: renewing old friendships


Sem. Peter Latouf, M.M.
My love of all things Chinese is what initially led me to seek out my vocation as a Maryknoll Missioner several years ago. This attraction to the Chinese culture was spurred on by several different experiences, experiences which were capped by my time as an English teacher during the summer of 2004. At that time, the university I was attending (Wayne State University in Detroit, MI) was looking for students to go abroad as part of a pilot program the University was attempting to initiate. I was fortunate enough to be chosen and spent several weeks travelling throughout Northern China, teaching English in various schools and interacting with people all along the way. After leaving China I had this uncontrollable urge to go back; I missed the landscape, the food, the culture, and especially the people. The only thing that prevented me, however, was the fact that I felt like something was missing – I needed to go back again, but this time, with God as my primary focus. I wanted to go back not as a lay English teacher but as a steward of the Church; in short, I discovered I wanted to be a missioner. And thus my journey with Maryknoll was begun.

This past summer, I was invited to travel with Maryknoll to China, my first time overseas as a Maryknoll Seminarian and my first time back to the country I taught in those many years ago. While much has changed in the world, one thing is for sure: the enthusiasm of the young people in China, their willingness to learn, and their thirst for knowledge – the things that drew me to mission in the first place – are still very much alive. Seeing these things evident in the faces and people I interacted with, as well as seeing the passion with which the Maryknoll priests and brothers in China serve the people, all worked together to re-invigorate my spirit of mission and my drive to serve the Church, to spread the Good News throughout the whole world.

The Stanley House
My trip to China began in Hong Kong, specifically at the Stanley House, the local Maryknoll Center House located in the Stanley district of Hong Kong. This is a house that carries with it years of tradition; it was originally built as a rest house for the Maryknollers in the area, but in 1942 was taken over by Japanese forces who used the house as a base during their invasion of Hong Kong. Maryknoll returned to the house in 1946 and it resumed its function as the hub of Maryknoll’s activity in Southern China. Today the house serves as a rest house, chapel, administrative building, residence hall, and conference center for mission activity in and around Hong Kong.

While at the Stanley House, I had the opportunity to interact with several U.S. Diocesan Seminarians who had come to China as part of Maryknoll’s Centennial Celebration. These seminarians had, at the invitation and under the guidance of Maryknoll, travelled throughout China visiting different churches, learning about Chinese culture, and experiencing first-hand the Church’s efforts in the Mainland. Several conferences that I attended in Hong Kong with them spoke on the necessity of the Church being united in China while keeping Christ always at the center of our focus. Both Cardinal Joseph Zen, S.D.B. (Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong) and Bishop John Tong (current Bishop of Hong Kong) gave talks that greatly inspired all the seminarians present - myself certainly included. The Church in Hong Kong, like in many places throughout the world, has its struggles; but through faith and a strong commitment to serving Christ, I believe the Church will continue to succeed in spreading its message of faith throughout the Asian continent.

After departing from Hong Kong, I travelled way to the northeast of China to Jilin City, home of the Jilin Medical College where Maryknoll priests and brothers serve as program directors and English professors. While there I had the opportunity to re-enter the classroom as an English teacher, teaching spoken and written English to a large group of Chinese nursing experiences. What an experience this was! I found myself suddenly thrust in front of a large group of bright faces who only had a slight grasp of the English language, without any teaching materials, and was expected to not only communicate with them but give them tools to learn to speak and read English. Through the use of hand signals, very slow pronunciation, and the occasional Lady Gaga song (the new international language, apparently!) I was able to share with them what I could. Once again, the zeal for learning that these students showed was unlike anything I have seen anywhere else in the world. Their commitment to gain knowledge and their openness to share their own experiences was a great inspiration to me, and I found myself wanting to interact with them more and more. As happens so often in the missions, we as missioners often learn as much, if not more, from the people we serve as they learn from us. A group of seminarians from the North American College in Rome, who had come to the Chinese Mainland with me to teach English as a part of the annual Maryknoll Teachers Project, all agreed with me that the people and especially the students are really at the heart of what mission in the Chinese Church is all about. Being present to the people is the primary way of bringing Christ to a nation that, for many, knows very little about the Catholic faith and I was very happy to be a small part of that effort even for just a short time.

As St. Paul teaches in the First Letter to the Corinthians, we are all one body; and the gifts we have been given we are meant to share. My thirst for adventure and my desire to meet and interact with people are gifts that I try consistently to share, and I feel that in China I was able to utilize those skills to their maximum potential. Being a presence to people who otherwise would have very little interaction with people of other cultures is one of the many benefits being a Maryknoller provides. As I continue on my Maryknoll formation journey, I will always keep in mind that it is the people – represented by those eager, outgoing, and always willing-to-interact students – that inspire me to continue on in my journey as a future missionary priest.

2 comments:

Pablo said...

Nice article and pics Peter!

Fr John Eybel said...

Congratulations on the creative approach to teaching English in China. Lady Gaga music as a tool in the classroom is memorable.