Last year a group of foreigners organized the Wufeng Project, working with aboriginal kids in Wufeng and Chingchuan, Hsinchu County. They gave the kids cameras and their photography was then sold at auction, raising over NT$2 million to renovate a desperately needed community center in Chingchuan. This is the blessing that Father Barry Martinson gave on Sunday to commemorate this touching event. To learn more about how to help this cause, check out ‘Rangi Association’ (‘Friend’) on Facebook.
Good and Bad Spirits: A Blessing for the Start of Work on the Chingchuan Community Center
– By Fr. Barry Martinson
Every home or building has a kind of soul within it. It is not like the soul of humans, but it is a soul nonetheless. When a house is made, there is pride, joy and hope – and the spirit of good flourishes. The soul is healthy. But as time goes on, things might happen in the house that are not always good. Arguments, sickness, failure, depression, even anger and violence, may occur. The soul of the house weakens. The once good spirit either departs or mutates into something altogether different – an entity almost akin to a spirit of evil.
That is why we have house blessings – not only to pray for the future well-being of a home, but (in the case of its renovation) that evil spirits of the past may be driven out by the forces of goodness and love. And that is one of the reasons we are having this blessing today in Chingchuan for the commencement of renovation on the new community center.
Let us look at the significant moments in the life of this 34-year-old building we are about to renovate.
Built in 1977 for the purpose of serving villagers of the Taoshan area, the structure was envisioned at that time as a combination credit union and coop. The credit union had already been in operation for several years previous and had its office at the Catholic church. It was thought a better location and bigger facilities were needed. At almost the same time, through the inspiration of the Spanish Jesuit, Fr. Jess Brena, the idea of a village coop was implemented. At that time the cost for the new building was NT 200,000, with funds coming from benefactors both in Taiwan and abroad. Each member of the coop put in a small amount of money for items that were to be sold at the coop and later shared in the profits.
The first years of this new building were successful. The credit union/coop building became a gathering place where villagers bought and sold, borrowed and lent. A spirit of unity prevailed. The credit union enabled many of the local families and farmers to raise their standard of living, while the coop assured they could buy products at cheaper prices. There were activities and outings for the members, enthusiastic meetings, and an annual sharing in the dividends from credit union deposits. A good spirit was definitely at work.
But at some point in the brief existence of this building, the situation began to change for the worse and there was a descent into darkness. It is difficult now to pinpoint what caused the decline. Was it poor management, greed, deception – or a host of all too familiar human weaknesses – that precipitated this downfall? Some 25 years after its inception, the coop had failed and the credit union was deep in non-repayable debt.
There was understandable frustration and anger from the investors, when they were unable to retrieve their money, much less engage in borrowing. Debts piled up. A credit union that was intended to bind its people together became, on the contrary, a symbol of division and loss. The once proud building fell into neglect and disrepair – its walls reflecting the actual condition of the credit union and coop – dark and molding, with peeling paint and a collapsed ceiling. After a short-lived effort to revive the credit union some ten years ago, the villagers seemed to lose hope of ever retrieving their funds and abandoned the building to the forces of nature.
The final blow came during the great typhoon and ensuing landslides of 2005, which caked the unfortunate building in layers of mud, both inside and out. It was deserted now. Forsaken as useless. Ignored as a symbol of failure, a broken spirit. Empty, it seemed – except for some unseen occupants… Who were they?
They were the negative spirits that now occupied the old building, emanating from their masters and resting comfortably within the shadows of depleted villagers lost hopes and dreams. Lying dormant and wallowing in memories of failure, they were the spirits of frustration, anger, sadness and despair – in a word, depression. And these spirits occupied every nook and cranny of their dusty dwelling. They were the voice of a people who had lost hope of recovery, lost faith in a change for the better. The darkness of these spirits seemed to have conquered the light. Their victory was apparently complete.
But then the small miracle occurred. Most are now familiar with the story of how a little band of mostly foreigners, with few resources, decided to share what talents they had with the underprivileged children of Chingchuan – through photography and art workshops – and how these small acts of kindness snowballed into what came to be called The Wufong Project, which held as a concrete goal nothing less than the transformation of the old credit union/coop building into a new and beautiful community center to serve the villagers of Chingchuan, especially the children, with new hope for a better life.
Then another miracle occurred. At an autumn auction at Taipei’s pavilion for indigenous people, the children’s art and photo projects were sold to the highest bidders, with additional friends and benefactors chipping in to attain the entire amount for making the Chingchuan Community Center – over two million Taiwan dollars – ten times what the original building cost 34 years ago.
The bad spirits were obviously not pleased. They had gotten accustomed to their place of rest. As long-time squatters in an old building they considered their own, they were not about to leave.
They made their presence felt. As spirits of failure, despair, anger and depression, they were powerful forces that could use everything in their negative arsenal to cripple and thwart the forces of goodness. Jealous of their status as lords of the manor, such spirits require something greater than human power to drive them away.
But the fascinating thing about evil is that it is the underside of goodness. The more goodness flourishes, the more evil tries to take the upper hand. This is apparent from the lives of some of the greatest figures in human history, from Jesus Christ and the Buddha to Ghandi and Mother Teresa, as well as the founders of great religions and movements that changed the world for the better. Those who gave themselves to others were themselves engaged in battling the forces of evil – never destroying such powers altogether, but always overcoming them by good.
The presence of evil is real. Its spirits inhabit each of us in some way, as do the spirits of good. There is a spiritual warfare within us, between the positive and the negative, kindness and selfishness, optimism and desolation. Only the power of love, from a source greater than ourselves, can drive away evil and replace it with goodness.
That is one of the purposes of this blessing today: to dispel the hidden, negative, destructive spirits of evil lurking even now in this building they call their own – to exorcise it of demons from the past that have taken over the goodness for which the building was once intended. To wash it with holy water, bathe it in the pure springs Chingchuan gets its name from, cleanse and purify and clean the building so it can be ready for its grand renovation.
The second reason for the blessing follows from the first. If the building is cleansed of its negative spirits, then it will be a safe place for the workers to carry on their renovation. Accidents, prompted by these jealous forces, will not occur. Arguments and disagreements, and all the human frailties to which we are subject, will have less power to disrupt a work that has its basis in goodness and love.
So the blessing is on the one hand a cleansing of the past, and on the other hand a safeguard for the future. What was built in hope but sunk in despair can now rise again with new life – reinvented and reincarnated with selfless service as a community center.
Hopefully, the renovation of the community center will be the beginning of an even greater renewal for the village, so that Chingchuan will not just be famous for housing a political prisoner in the past, but for offering art, beauty, music and opportunity in the present – where passersby can find a world of tribal culture at their fingertips, where children can learn once again the pride and joy of a full life by learning and expressing new talents, and where both locals and those from other countries can share their expertize, care and friendship with each other.
Goodness grows. It spreads. It cannot be stopped when it is backed by love and the energy of a higher power. Good always overcomes evil in the end.
Today, we celebrate two important feasts – Mother’s Day and Buddha’s birthday. We honor especially the mothers who are with us today, who helped make this day a reality, and we pray their generosity will be rewarded a hundredfold. Likewise, along with Our Lord Jesus, we invoke the Lord Buddha, as well as all our ancestors who are watching from above, to send their spirits upon this undertaking. We also ask the spirits of those who once worked here at this building in the past, but are now no longer with us, to bless this renovation so their past efforts will come to completion.
And we ask a special blessing for the workers, who will spend several months doing a difficult renovation in uncertain weather. We ask for their protection, good health, and success at the work of their hands. Finally, may the Lord bless all of us, dispelling negativity from our own souls as well and replacing it with joy and light!