The first time Wenxuan Yuan visited a Catholic church in Beijing as a child, she was struck by its beauty.
In the courtyard of the church there was a blackboard with a verse from the Book of Revelation in Chinese, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.”
“I did not fully understand the significance of these words, but I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I kept visiting the church again and again,” Yuan said.
At the age of 14, Yuan made the decision to become a Catholic. “I found a freedom that I had never had before. For the first time, I had nothing to hide in my heart,” she reflected.
“God has become my light and therefore I am no longer afraid of light,” Yuan told bishops and young people in Rome at a youth synod event sponsored by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture.
In a historic first, two bishops from China participated in the first few weeks of the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.
Beyond beauty, Yuan told CNA that what first attracted her to the Catholic faith was that, “It is true. It is not only a better theology. It is the true theology.”
And Yuan could not keep this truth to herself. “When I was in college, every weekend I would try to grab one of my friends for Mass and I did that for several years,” Yuan continued.
However, many of her college friends in China knew almost nothing about the Catholic faith. “Some even got the wrong idea that after the Reformation the Catholic Church became the Protestant church,” she added.
Upon hearing the Gospel for the first time, Yuan’s friends’ “first reaction was like, ‘It is beautiful,’ but second was ‘It is shocking. You are believing in crazy things.’”
“But that part of the point of Christianity. It is shocking and we are believing it,” Yuan said with a smile.
A Chinese religious sister from Hebei, China, also participated in the synod as an auditor.
Sister Teresina Cheng said that it is difficult for young people in China to “maintain a solid faith” because Catholic Christians are such a small percentage of the Chinese population.
“In universities, young Catholics are afraid of revealing themselves as such, for fear of being considered ‘strange’ or a minority,” Sister Cheng told AsiaNews.
Because of this, Sister Cheng fears that faith in China is “in danger of fading.”
“Certainly there are also young people interested in the Christian life, who on their own initiative come to ask to know the Church better, attend the catechumenate and activities in the parishes,” she added.
Yuan, a Chinese student full of such initiative, is currently pursuing a PhD in theology at Notre Dame University.
Her love of theology was born by reading spiritual writings through which she entered into “the living tradition of the Church.” Yuan found the “heroic battle of charity and self-sacrifice” in St. Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography to be a particular inspiration.
“Another thing I learned from St. Therese is the importance of praying for priests. I am blessed to have encountered some very holy priests in my life, who correct my faults and guide me through spiritual desolation, and always keep me in their prayers,” Yuan said at the youth synod event.
“Since it is hard to overstate how much a priest can do for a soul, I believe that all faithful should try their best to support their priests,” she continued.
“I saw the Church as a home from the very beginning and I am thankful for all of the grace I have received through her,” Yuan said.
“My life in the Church has also changed my relationships with people. I learned that all people are created by God in His image and therefore deserve my love,” Yuan said.
“I have to admit that sometimes I find it difficult to love some people, like to find Christ in them,” she continued.
“However, God puts His own love in me and that love drives me to approach those people, and actually I end up being friends with many of them.” Yuan said. “It is really a transcendent experience to be driven by love that goes beyond your understanding.”