The Pope And The Chinese

 Posted by at 10:05 pm
May 242010

Never heard of the pope?

Never seen a picture of John Paul II?

Never heard the name John Paul II?

Never seen a picture of Benedict XVI?


Maybe John Lennon was right, after all.
<< In case YOU never heard of John Lennon, he wore glasses, came from Liverpool and was shot dead in New York in 1980. His second or third wife was Japanese. >>


Today, was one of those extremely rare WOW moments for me.


I had a 26 year Chinese gentleman visiting me. I have a very obscure, hard to pinpoint networking issue, and he was somewhat of a networking expert.

Very polished. Very articulate. The IMAGE of the new China.

He is here doing a Masters at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) — an institution at which I taught both post-graduate and graduate courses.

He has been in the U.S. for two and a half years.

He has a law degree from China. He is from a village 8 hours away from Beijing.


He was asking me what I did. I showed him my (latest) book. He asked me what the picture represented. I said ‘The Vatican. St. Peter’s. The inside of St. Peter’s.’

He looked at me askance. I asked … ‘you know … the Vatican.’ He shook his head.

I said ‘Pope.’

He said ‘Pope?’

I said ‘Pope?’

He looked at me confused … and said ‘President?’

OK, I won’t go into the gory details.

We quickly established that he had NEVER heard of the word ‘pope.’

But, despite being a professional writer, I am a very visual person. So, I quickly bring up Google IMAGES and start showing him pictures of Benedict XVI.

He again asks me ‘President?’ [Me, the eternal diplomat, the son of a career diplomat, didn’t want to tell him that Obama kind of looks a bit different to Benedict XVI … ]


I was willing to believe that Benedict XVI wasn’t that notorious.

But, what about John Paul II. He was an INTERNATIONL mega-star.

So I pull up pictures of John Paul II. No reaction.

I pull up the enormously detailed entry in Wikipedia for John Paul II — studded with pictures and even a map of the countries visited by John Paul II.

I start scrolling down. He claims he has NEVER seen this guy before! He asks ME, who this guy is. There is really no answer to that question.

Then we come to a picture of John Paul II with the Dalai Lama. He immediately says … I know HIM .. the Dalai Lama.
<< I didn’t bother to tell him that my father and the Dalai Lama are very close friends. >>


I don’t want anybody making any wise cracks about this. Yes, up here in rural NH I could go out and easily find a dozen 50 years old who would not recognize the Dalai Lama. Plus, I have never met anybody in NH, in my 24 years of living here, who had heard of Sri Lanka or Ceylon. So, this is not about cultural superiority.

Plus, in case you have NOT worked it out … I am Asian too. And to be honest I don’t remember when I became aware of the Pope. No, I was not born a Catholic.

But, for me, this was pause for thought. Food for reflection.

So PLEASE think about it too.

Anura Guruge

  3 Responses to “The Pope And The Chinese”

  1. Hi Anura,

    I am Chinese and my grandfather is from China, but I live in Australia now. Yes, it is sad. The Chinese Central Government has no ties with the Vatican and only allow the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to practice. Given that China has went through decades of secular communism, it is a pity Catholicism is suppressed there.

    Ironic considering that, not many people knew Christianity first set foot in China in the AD 600s when a Syrian Nestorian Christian, Alopen, visited Tang China.

    And before Marco Polo visited China, the Great Khan commissioned his father and uncle (Nicolo and Raffeo Polo) to bring with them 100 learned men in the Catholic faith and holy oil from the Sepulchre in Jerusalem, so that he would be convinced of the primacy of Catholicism over other animalistic faiths the Mongols practiced. Imagine what would happen if they had succeeded and the Court of the Great Khan became converts…..

  2. Sean,
    Welcome and happy holidays. Yes, it was quite an experience to have a very polished, well educated Chinese IT expert here, doing his Master’s, who looked at all the pictures I showed him of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and said that he had never heard of the pope or seen any pictures of the two people I was showing him.
    Sean, have you seen these pictures of the Polo brothers? One of them appears on page 156 of my ‘The Next Pope’ book.
    Yes, it would have been interesting … but look what happened in Russia. OK, so maybe, things would have been different if China had been a Catholic country. [WOW, what would have happened to the population … even larger, if Catholic?]
    Sean, do you follow cricket. I know that there is a Test on right now. I have NOT checked the scores. I should. THANK YOU.

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