FINDING GOD IN SHANGHAI: A CHINESE CONVERT'S PATH TO FAITH
Courtney Mares/Catholic News Agency
ROME — At his baptism at a Catholic church in Shanghai, Dalù said that he “cried like a baby” knowing that his sins were being washed away. His journey to faith began with singing Christmas carols in 2009, and eventually led him to seek asylum in Rome.
“I am a music lover. Once I saw on a website that a choir of Shanghai Catholic Church was recruiting members. I went to meet them and they accepted me. I found this choir very special,” Dalù said in an interview with CNA.
“Before each rehearsal, the priest would tell us the Gospel of the day. I was deeply attracted. And then all the songs that they sang were Catholic hymns, and I was also moved,” he said, adding that he particularly loved the Latin hymn Panis Angelicus.
These rehearsals with the choir were the first time Dalù encountered the Gospel and Catholic hymns, and he said that he was moved by learning the meaning behind the music he found so beautiful.
“It was only a few months after I joined the choir that Christmas ushered in. The song that we sang was Silent Night, and I cried. It was so beautiful,” he said.
Dalù — a pseudonym he uses to protect his identity as he still has family in China — said that his family had instilled in him a love for truth, beauty, and goodness in his childhood.
“In fact, before I accepted the faith my spiritual world was completely ready, just waiting for the opportunity. My values could be summed up in three words: truth, goodness, and beauty,” he said.
“After joining the choir, the priest asked me to receive faith training. After half a year of study I learned the Catholic doctrine and the current status of the Chinese Church,” Dalù said.
He was catechized throughout 2010, a time when China’s Catholics were divided between the “underground church” and churches officially registered with the government and the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
The church choir Dalù was a part of was an “above-ground church” registered with the government.
“Before contacting the church, I did not know that there are two types of Chinese churches, official and underground,” Dalù said.
“Thankfully the priest who led me was a very determined Catholic priest,” he added. “He told us the truth about the Gospel, which is completely consistent with his personal behavior.”
Dalù soon came to discover that Chinese Catholics attending churches officially registered with the government have to discern which priests can be trusted.
“In China there are many official church priests who are very loyal to the Vatican and the pope, no different from underground churches, but some priests have been bought, completely unfit,” he said.
“There is a church near my house, only 600 meters away, but the priest of that church is completely controlled by the Patriotic Association,” he added.
Instead, Dalù would travel 10 miles away from his neighborhood in Shanghai to attend Mass with the priest who catechised him.
“My priest told me if you don’t read the Bible you don’t know Jesus, so I read the Bible every day,” he said.
“With the help of my priest, I began to understand the faith by reading the Bible, and I was completely attracted."
Dalù was baptized in Shanghai on December 20, 2010, at the age of 47.
“When the priest poured holy water on my head, I cried like a baby,” he said.
“Never before, like this. After the baptism, I cried at home for three days ... because I knew that I was a sinner and that the baptism washed away all of the sins that I had committed before and I became a new person. This is a great grace."
Like his chosen confirmation saint, St. Paul, Dalù said that he changed a lot after his conversion.
“I have had a bad temper,” he said. “After accepting baptism, I began to learn to repent. I got the strength from the Bible, according to Jesus, to learn how to be a husband and father.”
“My wife was very surprised by my change. She said that ‘keep it like this I will fall in love with you again.’”
Part of the reason why Dalù thinks he struggled with anger management was that he had felt “marginalized by society for a long time.”
The former journalist and radio host had lost his job after reporting on June 4, 1995, on the sixth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests – something forbidden to speak of in Chinese media.
“I reminded the listeners on the radio that today was a memorable day, but immediately after the broadcast of the program, I was censored and asked to write an apology, and then within a week I was fired,” Dalù said.
“And since then, I became unemployed and I could no longer find a job because there was this record in my personal file,” he said.
After his conversion, Dalù was able to apply his journalism experience to work in Catholic communications in Shanghai, where he helped to reprint Gospel readings, personal devotions, and Vatican news on WeChat, China’s largest social messaging app.
However, he was once again subjected to intimidation by the Chinese Communist Party officials.
“You know, it is an atheist country, China. The Chinese government wants to make its people blind, deaf, dumb, and lame, which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus did,” he said.
Dalù was eventually able to obtain refugee status in Italy because of the persecution that he suffered. He flew from Shanghai to Rome in September 2019, and says that his desire to live in Italy was a direct result of his Catholic faith.
Today Dalù resides in Italy’s Marche region, which he likes to point out was the birthplace of Matteo Ricci, the 16th-century Jesuit missionary known for his skill with Chinese language and evangelization in China.
He said that Ricci is a model of perseverance in evangelization under difficult circumstances.
“At that time, the work of evangelization was a very difficult task, very difficult, and not easy now. But relying on the power of God, the Catholic seeds were slowly planted,” he said.
Dalù said that there were many people in China today who would be very open to the message of the Gospel, as he was, but who have not heard it.
“I think about St. Paul, who was also a persecutor of Christians at that time, but God converted him and made him a saint. Similarly, there are many good people in the Communist Party who just don’t have the opportunity to come into contact with the truth of Catholicism. Among my friends, there are also people who are interested in my faith.”
“I believe that once the situation changes, China could freely believe in God and touch the truth,” he said.