Beijing, China. As part of the cooperation with Verbiest Foundation, the General Superior of the Claretian Missionaries, Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, CMF, joined, from June 2 to June 8, a pilgrimage to China led by Fr. Charles Phukuta, Superior General of the CICM missionaries. The occasion of the pilgrimage was to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of CICM Founder Theofiel Verbist who died in Laohugou (“Tiger Valley” Hebei Province) in 1868. Other members of the delegation were Br. R. Stockman FC Superior General, Fr. Ador Castillo CICM Vicar General, Fr. Jeroom Heyndrickx CICM founder and former director of Verbiest Foundation-Leuven (Belgium) and Fr. Francisco Carin CMF, the present director of Verbiest Foundation which organized the pilgrimage. The delegation was welcomed in Beijing by the 3 leading bishops of the Chinese Bishops Conference: Bishop Ma Yinglin, Bishop Shenbin and Bishop Guo Jincai. Together they celebrated 35 years of cooperation between the Conference and Verbiest Foundation. In their meeting they explored ways to increase the cooperation of the academic and pastoral programs during the coming years.
The pilgrimage delegation were received by Bishops Ma Yinglin, Shen Bin and Guo Jincai at the Bishops Conference in Beijing.
After concelebrating Sunday Mass in Nantang Cathedral (Beijing) the delegation went to visit four former CICM dioceses in Northern China. In each of the dioceses they prayed with the local community and the CICM Superior General Charles Phukuta spoke to the Christians and shared with them the spirituality of CICM Founder Verbist summarized in two sentences: “for the one who loves, nothing is difficult” and “we must remain united One Heart One Soul”.
In each Local Church (Hebei’s Laohukou and Chongli-Xiwanzi, and Inner Mongolia’s Jining and Hohot) the delegation presented gifts of the Church of Belgium; The gesture was understood very well and appreciated by the local Christians as an invitation to develop internal unity. The jointly singing and praying of the Our Father prayer moved each community deeply.
Belgian Ambassador Marc Vinck and members of the embassy of Belgium in Beijing have shown their sympathy to the initiative of this pilgrimage by participating personally in part of the program. At the end, the ambassador welcomed the delegation at the embassy. In the presence of many invited guests the ambassador handed the decoration of Commander of the Order of the Crown conveyed by His Majesty King Philip of Belgium to Fr. Jeroom Heyndrickx cicm, founder and honorary director of Verbiest Foundation for his many initiatives to develop friendship between China and Belgium during his 35 years as founder and director of Verbiest Foundation-Leuven (Belgium).
For Fr. Mathew, the pilgrimage was a unique opportunity to experience firsthand the rich diversity, the deep faith and the astounding complexity of the Catholic Church in China. He was very interested in knowing about the different ways congregations are been prest today in China, as well as the plan for a near-future Claretian presence in China. The challenge ahead is how to promote our charismatic gift in the midst of the Chinese church and how to care for vocations and prepare young missionaries, from China and abroad, for the missionary service of the Church, including this promising field of China. The East Asia Delegation Superior invited him to dialogue this issue with the different communities of East Asia during his Canonical Visitation that, arriving from Beijing, he started in Tokyo (Japan) on June 9.