Evangelizing in China
Spanish Missionary Priest Tells His Story
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Chiou (Qui) Shenfu, also known as Father Esteban Aranáz, shares the singular story of his missionary vocation, which has taken him from his native land, Tarazona in Spain, to China and Taiwan.
Maria Lozano interviewed this priest for the program "Where God Weeps," in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.
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Q: How did you discover your call to the priesthood?
Father Aranáz: We all have a vocation, and if there is an environment of respect and freedom, it's possible for each one to discover it. In my case, the living of the faith at home, the environment of my town and also the witness of my mother's sister, who is a religious, carried much weight; however, in the end it's a matter between God and you. When I finished my bachelor's degree, I saw clearly that God was calling me to be a priest. However, I did not really decide in favor of the mission. It was years later, with the experience of pastoral work in my life, that God made me see that I could go as a missionary to Taiwan, to China.
Q: Why Taiwan? Why China?
Father Aranáz: The decision to go to China and later to Taiwan stemmed from my friendship with a friend from Saragossa. He was a young boy who worked there, a kid, who had been working for years in a difficult situation, because he had arrived illegally in Spain. It was the birth of a beautiful friendship. One year I invited him for Christmas to my home. This friend of mine was a pagan, he wasn't a Christian. I often wondered how I could transmit to him, how I could communicate to him the meaning of Christmas. On Christmas Eve we went to the church to prepare things for the Midnight Mass. When I was placing the image of the Child Jesus <in the crib> my friend Yen, which is his name, said to my surprise, "Oh what a lovely image of the child, this Child Jesus says three things." I asked him, "Three things?" and he answered me, "Yes, the first thing is that He is not like us; He comes from Heaven. The second thing is that he is very small and has a Mother that loves him very much. And the third thing is that His arms are open because He loves the whole world." I was astonished and wondered how it was possible for my friend, who didn't have faith, to be explaining to me so simply but profoundly the mystery of Christmas.
Q: And that experience marked your life?
Father Aranáz: That was the first moment I thought of China. I thought: "Jesus, how many there must be in China who don't know you." From then on I was anxious for confirmation that this was the will of God. How could I leave the diocese to do other things? It was clear that when things come from God, they are from God and go forward. I meditated on it many times, I prayed about it and I saw clearly that the call to the mission was for China. Then John Paul II's words in the year 2000: go into the deep, more audacious apostolic aims, all that had me on fire interiorly. To think of China was something daring, yet the call was so strong that it did not leave me. I always had the conviction that whatever the bishop would say to me would be the will of God, but I couldn't fail to express with sincerity and simplicity what my heart felt at that moment: to go to work as a missionary in China, where I have been very happy for six years.
Q: And how was your arrival in Taiwan?
Father Aranáz: My knowledge of Taiwan came to me from a cloistered Dominican nun, who is in a convent in Taiwan. It was through her that I first discovered those lands and with her we stayed in contact through the children of the catechesis, of the town's school. I was thinking of China, but the difficulty of living and working in China made me decide to go to Taiwan. I think many missionaries have experienced this. Moreover, I wasn't going alone because I belong to the priestly Society of the Holy Cross of Opus Dei, and I have been able to count on them at all times, also in Taiwan. They are in Taipei. The spiritual support I had in Spain, through spiritual direction, I also found there. Thanks to this, the mission was able to go ahead.
Q: Names are very important in Asian countries. Did they continue to call you Father Esteban?
Father Aranáz: When a foreigner arrives in China, the first thing he must do is take a Chinese name, which will be the one used normally in daily life. In this case, my professor of Chinese gave me a name. Translated, my name is "Father autumn," Chiou (Qiu) Shenfu. Shenfu is how a priest is addressed in China and with the surname Chiou, and this is how everyone knows me in Taiwan. In some way it is a sign of detachment, because when going on mission even one's name is lost.
Q: How has the change been for you?
Father Aranáz: The change has to be a grace of God, because for an anxious person as I am, I don't think it would have been possible. I spent two years dedicated solely to the study of the language, and that obviously meant a stop to all kinds of activities. If one doesn't speak Mandarin, one is unable to serve, to work in Taiwan. Many people know English, but English is not spoken day to day. This helps very much to be detached; it's a great cure of humility. I think it helps to go back to the essential and important things in one's life. During those two years of classes every day, I did my tasks the best I could each day: celebrating Mass, praying, being with friends, resting and preparing with great excitement for work that was awaiting me when the language would allow me.
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The interview was conducted by Maria Lozano for the weekly radio and television program “Where God Weeps,” produced in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.
For more information: www.acn-intl.org