Sunday, August 1, 2010

Church services abroad can be cultural experience

Even without looking at the calendar, I can always tell when the weekend is approaching in Beijing. That's when an article I wrote about church services in the Chinese capital gets heavy hits at

I went to Sunday Mass sporadically when I lived in Beijing, mostly because of a Catholic co-worker. After mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral on Wangfujing, we'd head off to the big flea market at Jingsong, then held in a huge dirt field. That market has now gone pretty upscale in its new location and is known as Panjiayuan. St. Joseph's, pictured at right, has been restored. Sundays in Beijing will just never be the same!

I look at attending church services as part of the cultural experience of travel. On my first trip to England, I discovered Evensong services one late afternoon at Canterbury Cathedral. The service, in such an old historic building, was so moving it soon had me in tears. I've since went to Evensong in other English cathedrals, and find them truly uplifting.

One of my fondest memories of Belgium is the Saturday evening I spent in Brussels. I went to mass at St. Michael's Cathedral then headed down to the Grand Place for dinner in a sidewalk cafe. The night was marred only by the fact someone tried to break into my hotel room in the middle of the night.

I enjoy touring temples in China, and once wandered upon a Buddhist service in full swing in an ancient temple in Chongqing. Worshippers made room for me beside them. My Chinese wasn't good enough to know what they were saying, but it was still a moving experience for me. I marveled at how the Buddhist priests, in this very old cathedral, adopted modern technology of microphones to broadcast their message.  When the service was over, the worshippers broke out snacks and began eating. And I thanked God for allowing me to become lost while walking around Chongqing, otherwise I would have missed out on another wonderful experience.

A plug for me!

If you're planning a trip to China, please visit my website for information or email me if you have any questions. I've also written some mini-guides to travel in Beijing. My Beijing guides are geared to independent travelers, but people with free time on a tour will also find them useful.

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