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These Christian communities also reveal some essential characteristics of Chinese religious devotion: communities that are very oriented toward the laity and have lay leaders; the important role of women as transmitters of rituals and traditions within the family; a conception of the priesthood oriented to service (itinerant priests, present only on the occasion of important feasts and celebrations); a doctrine expressed in a simple way (recited prayers, clear and simple moral principles); a faith in the transforming power of rituals.
Little by little, the communities came to function in an autonomous manner. An itinerant priest (initially a foreigner, but in the 18th century mainly Chinese priests) was accustomed to visit them once or twice a year. Normally the leaders of the communities gathered the various members once a week and presided over prayers, which most of the members of the community knew by heart. They also read sacred texts and organized religious instruction. They often held separate gatherings for the women. Moreover, there were itinerant catechists who instructed the children, the catechumens, and the neophytes. In the absence of a priest, local leaders administered baptism.
During his annual visit of a few days, the missionary conversed with the leaders and with the faithful, received information from the community, cared for sick persons and catechumens, etc. He heard confessions, celebrated the Eucharist, preached, baptized, and prayed with the community. After his departure, the community continued its usual practice of reciting the rosary and the litanies.
The ordinary Christian therefore saw a missionary once or twice a year. The true center of Christian life was not the missionary, but the community itself, with its leaders and catechists as the main connecting link.
Above all in the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century these communities turned into small but solid centers of transmission of Christian faith and practice. Because of the absence of missionaries and priests, the members of the community - for example, the catechists, the virgins and other lay guides - took control of everything, from financial administration to ritual practices, including the leading of sung prayers and the administration of baptisms.