Monday, July 23, 2012

The West Cathedral

We had heard from a friend that there is a so-called "West Cathedral" in Beijing. This news surprised us, as for years we have known about, and been attending Mass at, the North, South, and East Cathedrals. How could we not have known about the West Cathedral?

We were especially intrigued given that the West Cathedral, we were told, is located in the vicinity of Xizhimen, a transportation hub that is not far from the apartments we have called home over the past several years.

A neighborhood parish...in Beijing...imagine that!

Julie, Z, and I took the occasion of having rented bikes for the day (more on that later) to try and find the West Cathedral. You see, our friend didn't know exactly where the church is located, other than it is within a short pedicab ride from the Xizhimen metro station. That radius, to put it mildly, covers a lot of ground, and so bikes were a much preferred alternative to hoofing it around for hours searching for what could be a hard to find location.

And hard to find it was. After pedaling around a bit, we decided to go right to Xizhimen station and ask one of the pedicab drivers for some help. Our second target, an older gentleman with a motorized, enclosed three-wheeler, seemed to know exactly what we were talking about and gave us precise directions.

Well, as precise as things get here in Beijing..."Go over the bridge and it is on that road."

Following our rough guide, we asked again for directions when we had crossed the bridge and go on for a bit.

"Keep going that way. It is not far."

Another block later and we were getting ready to ask again, when we spied a cross, hidden a bit in the cluster of surrounding residential and commercial buildings. Riding just another 50-100 meters brought us to the front gate.

I can say that without help we would never have found the place. It is a bit further from Xizhimen than we expected, in a direction that we may never have been before.

But we found it, and it is actually quite convenient to reach from our apartment. Just take Line 4 four stops from Weigongcun to Xinjiekou, get out at the south west exit, walk a few meters west, and there it is.

As for the church itself, it is smaller than the other cathedrals we have been to. It is also much less crowded. This may have been the first cathedral Mass we have been to where there weren't people standing. And the facilities are not as well developed. No massive screens with the songs and responses displayed. The lectors, choir members, and gift bearers seemed to be from the same family. It appeared to us as a faith community still in the early stages of formation.

And we liked it that way. The Mass, for us, was more contemplative than at some of the larger, more well established cathedrals, where the Chinese-language Masses can be quite spectacular affairs. Not that there is anything wrong with pomp and circumstance, mind you. But we really enjoyed the change of pace, and I'm sure we'll be back.

~Steve

PS: There are pigeons being raised in the front courtyard of the cathedral...

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