The Last Word: Shanghaied

Going to Mass in China

It’s late Saturday night in Shanghai. I’m in town for thirty-six hours as part of a whirlwind tour of China. A friend of a friend connected me to my tour guide, the briefcase-bearing David, a university student who plays right tackle for his school’s American-style football team. He’s earnest and his English is fine, but he has seemed utterly mystified by my questions. What should I see first? Exactly what part of the city are we in? Now, over drinks, the truth comes out: He’s never been a tour guide before; he’s doing this as a favor. He smiles weakly.

His friend Alice, the best discovery of the day so far, all opinions and eye-rolling, suddenly interrupts to ask, “Are you religious?”

As was the case with most of the crowded streets we wandered today, I’m unsure where this will lead, but it turns out to be a practical matter. The next day is Sunday, and they have heard Americans like church.

So I confess. Yes, I am religious—Catholic. That doesn’t register, so smartphones are consulted, translation occurs, nodding ensues: Catholic. I’d consulted my own phone earlier to research Mass times, but when I searched the web for “Catholic, Shanghai,” the first thing that came up was a London Telegraph article, “Shanghai’s Catholic Church in Disarray.” I learned that longtime Shanghai bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian died in April, and his...

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About the Author

Liam Callanan is the author of the novels The Cloud Atlas and All Saints. His new short story collection, Listen, will soon be published by Four Way Books.