Special thanks to Daniel Lindbergh Lang for providing this reflection on his experience at the USCCA's 28th International Conference, "China, Christianity, and the
Attending the 2021 U.S.-China Catholic Association conference has been for me, one grace after another in a hopeful start to engage further with the Church in China.
I’m Catholic, through generations of my dad’s family, Austrian-Americans. I’m Chinese, through my late mother, who immigrated to America in the early ‘90s. Since embracing my faith and learning Chinese as an undergrad, I’ve grown increasingly interested in China’s Church. My interest grew so much that as a college senior, I conducted fieldwork in Taiwan, meeting young parishioners there and embarking right after on the 2019 World Youth Day pilgrimage.
I learned about the USCCA last fall while Googling scholars involved in China’s Church. I asked them how they’d recommend I learn more, and John Lindblom recommended the USCCA. I began attending webinars, starting with Dr. Diane Obenchain’s. Meanwhile, I hoped to return soon overseas for the U.S. Peace Corps Mongolia.
When I heard about the USCCA’s conference, I felt interested but uncertain whether to attend in person. I no longer was affiliated with a school, would be going alone and wouldn’t be presenting. I took a leap of faith. I registered. Then my parish priest Fr. Nathan Mamo called, offered to sponsor me in full and insisted that I participate in everything I could. I gratefully accepted. God set my stage.
I arrived Wednesday evening, settled into the residence hall and wandered Santa Clara University to the Mission Church. I asked Fr. Michael, the executive director, if anyone had dinner plans, since I knew no one. He connected me with Rosie Bai, the board secretary. We got dinner. I felt delighted to learn she was a Catholic from Xi’an, since I’d studied there. After dinner, I received a text from Tom McGuire, the board chair. He invited me to get breakfast with him, where I also met his wife Florence and Frs. Francis Li and John Chen. Soon, I would know many people.
From Mass that Friday evening into the opening keynote, I met people familiar with both the places I'd been, such as Dr. Chiaretto Yan with Shanghai, and the places I hoped to go, such as Kathleen O'Brien with Jilin. That felt wonderful.
Throughout the weekend, I enjoyed serendipitous encounters with extraordinary folks, such as with fellow Sir Knight Peter Tan, who was a Master of the Fourth Degree. I felt awed by the approachability of guests and by their candor. Every break we had felt fast, for every person I met shared such unique stories and advice. I could write thousands more words about these moments.
Perhaps my most personally memorable moment occurred during the question-and-answer period of my final session. A virtual participant, Joseph Zhao Yu, mentioned while asking a question that he was in Reno, Nevada—where my parish was. I too was planning to ask a question in that session. So, while asking my question, I introduced myself as also from Reno. Afterward, the panelist Kathy Stout approached me, requesting my WeChat for her friend, who saw us online. Her friend became my friend, and we texted, coordinating to meet. That Thursday, when I returned to my parish to tell my priest about the weekend, I also introduced our parish to my new friend, Joseph. Now we sing tenor together in our music ministry. We hope this fall to help with the USCCA’s Mission Appeal program. The Holy Spirit really brought us together.
In my weeks since the USCCA conference, I have spoken about it with most anyone interested. The conference widened my perspective on hope, despite challenges among believers in China. From sessions and keynotes that weekend, I penned three dozen pages of notes, exchanged contact information with so many people and took plenty more photos.
In my research, as I read pieces about China’s Church, I often smile when I realize I’ve met their authors like Ian Johnson and Drs. Richard Madsen and Michel Chambon. Whatever the Lord has in store for me, His plans are great. I’m glad to grow.