AsiaNews editor welcomes participants to the Symposium ‘China: the Cross is the Red." The Patriotic Association shows off its power, claiming for example the right to appoint bishops. Sometimes underground Christians turn inward. Perhaps, diplomatic agreements and relations are not so important. Despite its atheist government, 85 per cent of China’s population adheres to some kind of faith.
Rome (AsiaNews) – "Whilst the Patriotic Association shows off its absolute power over clergymen, temporarily arresting some of them, or forcing illegal bishops and those in communion with the Holy See into joint celebrations between, Pope Francis has proposed a prayer for the Church in China," said Fr Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews and missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), as he inaugurated the Symposium ‘China: the Cross and the Red’.
In his address to the participants gathered in the Great Hall of the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, he stressed that the day of the conference, 24 May, was chosen on purpose as it is the World Prayer Day for the Church in China.
Although the "optimist party" appears to be getting stronger in anticipation of a positive outcome to talks between the Holy See and the Chinese government over episcopal appointments, Fr Cervellera called on those present not to forget the ongoing persecution of the Chinese Catholic Church, most notably with regards to the martyrs who shed their blood for evangelisation, and the suffering underground Catholics have to endure.
"Despite fears of chaos due to the presence of important political figures", Fr Cervellera said at the start that the request to hold the symposium "also came from our superior general, Fr Ferruccio Brambillasca, in order to use this venue as the launch of a book by Fr Sergio Ticozzi, PIME, titled ‘Sfide passate e presenti. Missionari del Pime in Cina’ (Past and Present Challenges. PIME missionaries in China), published on this occasion in a special edition."
He noted that it was Pope Francis who mentioned "the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China established by Benedict XVI ten years ago." In his Letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007, the pope emeritus "addressed all Catholics without distinction, to comfort them in their faith, offer them guidelines to reconcile the official and underground communities, and open a dialogue with Chinese authorities in truth and charity."
"Let China rest assured,” Benedict wrote in point 4 of the Letter, “that the Catholic Church sincerely proposes to offer, once again, humble and disinterested service in the areas of her competence, for the good of Chinese Catholics and for the good of all the inhabitants of the country.”
According to AsiaNews‘s editor, one important question is worth asking: "Should there still be an underground and illegal Church, unrecognised by the government?" For him this is an "grave problem, because according to information coming from China, the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association are using carrots and sticks to get underground priest to register" with the authorities.
Among underground Catholics, "sometimes an attitude of closure leads to the idea that state recognition with the freedom to evangelise is all but impossible. This leads to estrangement and mutual condemnation. By contrast, the Letter reiterates dozens of times the urgency of a dialogue full of love, of desire for reconciliation and mutual forgiveness."
Contrary to "some Christian media and groups who often play Pope Francis against Benedict XVI, it seems to me that they are working and pointing towards the same goal: using prayers to Our Lady of Sheshan for Chinese Catholics to engage in reconciliation and mutual love as well as face together the task of evangelising a powerful but also so fragile China."
Fr Cervellera spoke about many attempts to bring the Church's mission to China, starting with Mother Teresa, who was repeatedly turned away, and Fr Alberic, "who shed his blood in a tributary of the Yellow River." Today "in China, at least 10,000 women follow Mother Teresa's rule in a sort of third order". And that is not all, "officially atheist China is actually a country where 85 per cent of the population adheres to some kind of faith."
For the editor, the many testimonies of "sorrow, control, abuse, persecution, but also loyalty to the Lord, to his Church and to the Pope" show that "diplomatic agreements and relations are perhaps not so important. At one time agreements were sought and sealed to help religious freedom and Church evangelisation. Now, according to some media, they seem to have become an end in itself, an empty point of arrival."
In conclusion, "The point is that whilst we Catholics discuss agreements and diplomatic relations, the Church in China needs bishops, seminar teachers, books, training, aid, and witnesses," Fr Cervellera said. In his view, there are "two ways to live solidarity with the Chinese Church. The first is through charity and prayer, as did some sick people who could not come to this symposium, but offered instead their illness and suffering for the good of Chinese brothers and sisters. The second is the witness of PIME and many other missionaries who risk their life to proclaim the Gospel even in China. How beautiful! We should pray for this; may vocations to the mission to China appear and grow out of this symposium. Let us entrust all these intentions to the Mother of God of Sheshan, Queen of China."