Among the “great cloud of witnesses” are Chinese saints

Any serious Christian would be familiar with the following Scriptural exhortation:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.

–Apostle Paul (Hebrews 12:1-2)

And when we imagine this “cloud of witnesses”, we probably imagine something like:

all-saints

There’s nothing bad about the above image. In fact, it’s inspiring, and it also challenges the popular notion that the Church only honors and canonizes men… But missing for many years from my religious imagination were saints who share my ethnic identity, and images like the one above aren’t very helpful.

I am ethnically Chinese, and I am a Christian (agnostic-turned-Protestant-turned-Catholic, to be specific). For someone who once struggled to integrate these seemingly disparate identities, today was a special, symbolic day. Today marks the first day of the Chinese New Year, the year of the goat, and it also happens to be the feast day of a Chinese Catholic saint. St. Lucy Yi Zhenmei is a Chinese Roman Catholic saint from Sichuan, China. The schoolteacher was sentenced to death in the 1862 for her refusal to renounce her faith. She, along with 119 other Chinese Christians — all martyred for their ministry and faith — was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. “Today’s celebration is not the appropriate time to pass judgement on those historical periods:  this can and should be done elsewhere. Today, with this solemn proclamation of holiness, the Church intends merely to recognize that those martyrs are an example of courage and consistency to us all, and that they honour the noble Chinese people,” he said during his homily at the canonization.

It’s at once exhilarating, humbling, and encouraging  to to know that there are many faithful, heroic Chinese brothers and sisters among the “great cloud of witnesses”. My favorite part of Chinese New Year has always been gathering and feasting with extended family — and as I journey deeper and deeper into the richness of the Catholic faith, I rejoice that my family gets larger and larger with the communion of the saints!

chinesemartyrschernyak Today, Christians in China continue to face non-violent forms of oppression and repression. But it looks like there’s no stopping the spread of the Good News! As of 2010, there were reportedly 68 million Christians in China. And experts say China is on track to become the largest Christian population in the world by 2030… My heart swells with joy as I contemplate seeing multitudes of Chinese faces in heaven! 😉 ?????? chinese catholics 新年快乐!平安与你同在! 🙂 To catch a glimpse of my other travails in grasping the universality of the Church, read (and see) how art has helped me.

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The importance of non-European Christian imagery

I recently began creating non-traditional depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. And by “non-traditional”, I mean non-European. Below is an Indian and Japanese depiction respectively. I got plenty of inspiration from images I saw online, and then added my own spin. Both are hand-drawn with Micron pens.

“Madonna and Child as Indians”
“Madonna and Child as Japanese”

Just to be clear, I’m not creating these alternative cultural depictions to be gimmicky.

I have a deep, personal appreciation for such images because they have helped me better grasp the universality of our God and His plan for mankind. I am ethnically Chinese and grew up in Muslim-majority Indonesia. For years, I was subconsciously frustrated and estranged by singularly European depictions of Christian figures.

As my friend Christopher wisely said, it was healthy for Europeans to try to depict religious figures in terms familiar to their culture, but unfortunate that imperialism forced those depictions on the rest of the world.

I’m hoping to work on Chinese and Indonesian versions next, because of these cultures’ special closeness to my own heritage and identity. If you have any suggestions on other cultures you would like to see (some great suggestions I’ve received are Mongolian and Maori), do let me know!

I hope these images will be a blessing to your journey as they have been to my own. Have a wonderful Advent! 🙂

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The Zainals wish you a most blessed Advent!