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Faith of parents in Communist China led to Rochedale parish priest’s vocation

Fr Baiyi Gong

Installation: Archbishop Mark Coleridge (left) and Fr Baiyi Gong at Fr Gong’s installation as parish priest at St Peter’s, Rochedale.

CHINESE priest Fr Baiyi Gong may not have become Rochedale’s new pastor if China’s Communist Party hadn’t closed the seminary where his father was training to be a priest.

Originally from the Hubei province, Fr Gong is from a village where about 80 per cent of the population is Catholic.

Belgian Franciscan Friars brought the faith into Hubei province, which has the largest Catholic population in China.

When the Communist Party came into power in 1949, Fr Gong’s village, especially his parents, suffered persecution.

Fr Gong’s Mum and Dad had both been discerning a religious vocation to the priesthood and consecrated life when they were told to leave their dreams behind.

“They didn’t have any other choices,” Fr Gong said. “They went home.”

But amidst the despair and shattered dreams, Fr Gong’s parents eventually married and had a family of their own.

Fr Gong, a 10th-generation Chinese Catholic and one of three children, said his parents had always prayed that one of their own would be a priest or a nun.

They did all they could to raise their children in the faith, even when it was against the law.

“Even during the years of the Cultural Revolution when religious practice was banned, my parents had by all means made sure that we would receive enough faith formation and sacraments even in secret,” Fr Gong said.

Before Fr Gong was a teenager, he made a commitment to honour his parents’ vision.

“I remember when I was in Grade 6, I told my class that I was going to be a priest,” he said.

By this stage the Reform and Opening of China allowed some religious freedoms, and Fr Gong was already leading the family’s morning and evening prayers, the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross.

These devotions sparked hope in the his family.

“During the Cultural Revolution, many lost hope,” Fr Gong said.

“They didn’t think that the Church would survive the persecution.

“But my parents through it all raised their children to follow Christ.

“So now, they end up with the Church in China flourishing and their children practising their faith in the Church and one of them being a priest.”

Fr Gong entered the minor seminary of the Yichang diocese in 1990, and then entered the major seminary in 1992. He was ordained a priest on December 8, 1998.

Fr Gong said his own dream of ministering overseas was crushed when his applications were rejected.

But a Chinese Franciscan priest living in Australia would answer his prayers.

In 2006, with the help of the Franciscan, Fr Gong arrived in Australia to study at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney.

After four-and-a-half years in Sydney he was transferred to Brisbane and worked in the parishes at Sunnybank, Upper Mt Gravatt/Wishart, and Grovely, Samford and Mitchelton.

He is spending his 11th year in Australia as the parish priest of St Peter’s in Rochedale following his installation on May 12.

Fr Gong said his own family’s faith was “nothing special”, but how God worked when you followed his will.

“There is nothing special about my family faith journey or my personal one,” he said.

“There is not much difference between our faithful life and that of many other Christians.

“What we all need to do is to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, finding our way back when we are lost and confused, and retrieving our hope.

“It is just like what a Chinese poet from the Southern Song Dynasty wrote: After endless mountains and rivers that leave doubt whether there is a path out, suddenly, one encounters the shade of a willow, bright flowers and a lovely village.

“And now, here I am living and working in this beautiful city, Brisbane.”

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