The Irony of the Cross in Macau

By Wei Zhien, May 24, 2019 15:05 PM

A cross is included in the crest of the Hotel Lisboa in Macau. (Provided by Wei Zhien )

There is something ironic about Christianity in Macau. This irony is typified by the crest as seen in the photo. The photo is of the crest of the Hotel Lisboa in Macau. When Macau was under Portuguese administration, Stanley Ho held the gambling monopoly for over 40 years. The Lisboa Hotel housed within it the largest gambling casino in Macau-the Casino Lisboa, which continues to be one of the iconic structures in the city that represent Macau. Although the new American casinos that have come to Macau in the last ten years have dwarfed it, the Lisboa remains a symbol of the city.

And the crest of the Hotel Lisboa is a symbol of the hotel and its relationship to the history of Macau. If one looks closely, one notices a Christian cross in the middle of the crest.  Why is it there? After having first landed on the coast of China in the 1500's, the Portuguese laid claim to a small area of land that they called Macau. Because they were successful at fending off pirates in the sea around Macau, the Chinese saw no need to expel them and allowed them to stay. 

The Portuguese initially came to Macau as a stopover in their colonial route which stretched from their interests in Angola and Mozambique in Africa, to Goa in India, from the Malaccas in present-day Malaysia to Nagasaki in Japan.  Macau then became for the Catholic church its stepping stone to move into China with the Gospel.

The design of Portuguese ships had a large cross erected at the bow of the ship to indicate that they were sailing under the auspices of the Christian king of Portugal and under the protection of the Christian God. This design came to be symbolic of Portugal and Portuguese history. 

So the cross in the middle of the crest of the Hotel Lisboa is actually the cross at the bow of a Portuguese sailing ship, symbolizing Portuguese history in Macau.  "Lisboa" is after all the Portuguese spelling of "Lisbon", the capital of Portugal.  Yet, to have a cross located in the center of what has long been the symbol of gambling in Macau, is ironic, given the situation of the church in Macau.  To have the symbol that represents Christianity be found right in the middle of the symbol that represents something that has brought tremendous loss and suffering to many families whose lives have been damaged by gambling addiction as well as the other vices that come along with gambling such as prostitution and triads, is a great irony. 

If something is in the center of something else, it usually indicates that it is of vital importance, it is at the "heart of the matter".  In the case of Macau, the cross and Christianity have not been at the center of the Macau person's life but has rather been overtaken by the gambling industry.  Even though the church, the Catholic church especially, has had a significant influence on the culture of Macau, Christianity has failed to capture the "heart" of the people. 

Although the Gospel came to Macau over 400 years ago, it has barely touched the soul of the average person.  Although Robert Morrison, who was the first Protestant missionary to China, came to Macau over 200 years ago and was the first Protestant to translate the Bible into Chinese, Macau still has the smallest percentage of Christians, per population of any Chinese place on earth.  Up until the last 20 years, Macau had the reputation amongst the missionaries there as being as "hard as rock" (石头地) because it was so difficult to do church work. Very many missionaries came for a short while, became discouraged, and left.  Many Hong Kong church leaders have also acknowledged the difficulty of planting churches and discipling believers in Macau.

The message of the Gospel is about the cross and Christ's work of salvation being at the center of God's plan and the center of the church's mission.  The irony of Macau is that the physical symbol of the cross is at the center of Macau but the spiritual message of the cross is not.  The prayer of many for Macau is that one day there will no longer be this irony-that one day the physical symbol of the cross in the center will also truly represent the cross's central place in the hearts of the people of Macau.

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