I had gone into Christ Church Cathedral during a weekday, as I do periodically for some quiet meditation and contemplation. Two things that are hard to come by at home with a toddler in the house. The cathedral is a great alternative because its always open to the public, until around 5:30pm anyway. Its also very often empty, and there is just something about the place for me.
Anyway. I had jusy walked in the front doors and saw a young Chinese girl, no more than maybe 20 years old, holding a camera and standing in the entrance looking somewhat confused and distraught. Usually there is someone in there to keep an eye on the place and answer questions, but that day no one was around. She came up and asked in very broken english “am I allowed here?” So I answered that yes, its fine, its open to the public. She responded “No, no. I know that… I mean I don’t know if I should be here. Do they worship Mary here? Or do they worship Jesus?” Me: ” Umm. Well…Jesus.” She smiled and said “Good! I may come in!” Then started looking around.
At the time I was a bit confused by the encounter, but went and took my seat and began meditating. A few minutes past and she came and sat right next to me in what is a large, and on this day, completely empty place. At first I was thinking “Well, this is awkward.” But as several minutes passed it was actually kind of nice. Anyone thats familiar with group meditation can attest that there is something very powerful about sitting very still and in absolute silence with another person(s). Once the awkwardness subsides at least. Her taking the initiative to come sit with me, I also found to be very sweet. At one point she got up, and to my shock, walked away for a time leaving her camera and belongings with me! She left the chapel and returned several minutes later. Also kind of sweet that she found me to be so trusting, but also concerning at the same time. I couldn’t help but wonder if theft was rare in the part of China she was from.
After a period of time I looked up at her. Noticing I was done she explained “At my church in China, they warned me that there is one church in Victoria that is very bad to go too. I don’t want to make mistake and go there by accident. They don’t worship Jesus. They worship Mary.” Light bulb moment. “Oh! I think you mean Roman Catholic?” She thinks, then nods. Still not looking very sure. I tried to stumble through an explaination knowing that her english was poor. It must have sounded like utter gibberish to her. “This is an Anglican cathedral. It is kind of like Roman Catholic, but its different. Roman Catholics don’t worship Mary, but they do venerate her and..” At this point her stare had gone blank. So I stopped. “They worship Jesus here?” she asked again. “Yes.” “Good…..do you think it would be dangerous for me if I made a mistake and went to the wrong place?” She looked very concerned at this point. That was a bit heart breaking. She was clearly terrified of making a mistake and going to the wrong church. I really didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to attack the beliefs her home church was teaching her. That was in fact my first instinct. But to what end? I’m fairly certain she wouldn’t have taken my opinion to heart. She clearly believed what she had been told. So I gave her the best, non accusatory answer I could. That personally I don’t think so, and as a matter of fact I don’t have the slightest problem entering any religious building, or attending any religious service of any kind. That I don’t think thats in anyway “dangerous.” But that obviously some won’t agree with that. She seemed to be satisfied with what I said. Thanked me, then left.
It was a fascinating encounter. I was very glad to have the opportunity to sit in silence with her as well as chat about things, the best we could anyway. But it left me sad too. Another example of instilling fear in adherents. For what? Control? Manipulation? Or honest misunderstandings? I dunno. But its sad. The world needs less of that, whatever the cause. She had said that she was completely blown away by the beauty of the place, then asked about service times. I pointed them out to her. I hope she went. For that matter, I hope she accidentally attends a Roman church as well. I tend to think that first hand exposure is ideal medicine against ignorance and prejudice of any kind. Maybe she won’t needlessly find the world, especially within her own spiritual tradition at that, to be such a scary place.