(Photos: In traditional China, the emperor served as the mediator between heaven and earth, between the cosmic order above and the moral order of society. In the 17th century, Jesuit astronomers brought new methods of astronomy to China, allowing the Chinese to predict celestial events and construct a calendar to govern human affairs with greater accuracy.)
This summer, the US-China Catholic Association is very blessed to have Brother David, a seminarian from China, living in residence. Staying in Berkeley, Brother David is assisting Fr. Michael and Kathleen O'Brien, local coordinator for the Campus Engagement Initiative (CEI), as they launch this new program. And he is looking at degree programs at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) that explore the intersection of science and faith. The GTU is a national center for theology in Berkeley.
Brother David was born into a traditional Catholic family in northern China and grew up in a devout Catholic community. He was aware of his vocation to be a priest since he was a boy, but given the strong emphasis on family in traditional Chinese culture, he delayed entering the seminary, instead attending seminary and earning a Bachelor of Science. After working several years, he entered the seminary with his family’s support.
In this respect, the delay in entering the seminary was fortunate: Brother David had the opportunity to gain a background in science. Had he entered the seminary right after high school, as many Chinese aspirants have in the past, he might not have gained that background.
In Brother David’s experience, many people in China have a strong faith in science and a negative attitude to religion. He writes, “The most common view they hold is that religion is a superstition and spiritual opium of humankind. This is actually a prejudice. This prejudice is not the result of objective and neutral analysis by most Chinese people; rather, they are taught in that way since childhood. People who grow up with this kind of education have a strong belief in science. They are accustomed to looking at everything from a scientific perspective. They think that whatever is scientifically proven is true, otherwise, it is pseudoscience and absurd. They do not realize that their attitude to science is like a religion, yet their patterns of thought and behavior have made science a rational god.”
He adds, “As many scientific theologians or theological scientists have said, science is about HOW, and religion is about WHY… These are two distinct but interpenetrating fields. Science can promote faith, and faith can guide the development of science, such as even has been the case in astronomy. So, I think that the relationship between science and faith should not be an adversarial one, as most Chinese think, but a partnership and a friendship.”
As noted, Brother David is also working on the USCCA’s Campus Engagement Initiative (CEI). This is a new program launched in collaboration with area universities and select Catholic high schools. The goal is to promote welcome of and deepen engagement with Chinese international students. These young people are important ambassadors between cultures and communities. The CEI will provide Chinese international students the opportunity to meet other Chinese persons here in this country, to encounter the best of American culture, and to learn about the constructive role that faith plays in society and in the lives of individuals. (You can read more about the CEI on the USCCA website.)
Brother David’s role in these early stages of the CEI is to collect and review resources on philosophy and faith that will be relevant and interesting for Chinese international students. These resources include books, music, and videos in Chinese and in English. The USCCA will curate and provide background so that Chinese international students can explore these questions on their own, or in conversation circles on campus. Brother David is also assisting the USCCA in building a new website to host these materials and to develop the social media to promote them. And he is helping organize a leadership training session for the CEI team and volunteers.
Would you like to reach out to Brother David? Would you like to support his work and the CEI? Write us in Chinese or in English at Staff@USCatholicChina.org.